The enemy of my enemy is my friend

And so the recriminations begin.

A letter from Oakland City Attorney John Russo gave a Rajon Rondo-on-Brad Miller style slap to Lew Wolff. Zennie Abraham quickly jumped on it, as did Robert Gammon. I’m sure the comments section will be full of people going back and forth yet again on the subject, so I won’t bother rehashing history for the umpteenth time.

Abraham somehow managed to bury the lead in his blog post by not acknowledging in text what he said in his vlog – discussions with the A’s and the Blue Ribbon Committee are not going well. That development is anything but surprising, given the committee’s makeup. Matier and Ross reported on yesterday’s meeting between Wolff and Dellums. Fittingly, the meeting was derailed by a planned fire drill, forcing the parties to move the proceedings elsewhere.

Russo isn’t going to pen a legal brief on his own, he has orders. He may have done it at the behest of the Mayor or City Council. Abraham speculates that it’s a step towards pitting Oakland and the Giants against the A’s and MLB. He even trots out old Rule 52, which as I’ll explain later, is not applicable these days.

Let’s take the confrontation angle first. As noted previously, the Giants don’t have a legal option to exercise regarding territorial rights. It’s in the ML Agreement, and Maury Brown spelled this out in his reading of the ML Constitution in a 2005 Hardball Times series:

If there are any disputes or controversies between the clubs, or between club(s) and any of MLB’s entities, and if the resolution isn’t expressed elsewhere in the Constitution, the Major League Rules, the Basic Agreement with the MLBPA, or the collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Umpires, the Commissioner serves as the sole arbitrator. (Article VI Sec.1)

What recourse do the Giants have, then? They can try to go to bat for Oakland, even though they have no history of doing that previously. Even though, in moving to China Basin, they’ve actively siphoned East Bay fans away from the A’s. Even though they’ve held a regional hegemony for decades. It wouldn’t be hard to posture themselves as saviors of baseball in Oakland – no matter how strange that sounds – as it wouldn’t require much effort and could be done in a sort of stealth mode. It wouldn’t be difficult to get a few letters from prominent pols in order, so no problem there either. The best part is for the Giants is that it works. It paints Wolff as a villain and Oakland as a victim, despite the backstory’s greater complexity.

Problem is, behind all of the sizzle there isn’t much, if any, steak. For Oakland to be successful, there still needs to be an actual ballpark deal in place. The Giants know firsthand what it means to fail to get a stadium built, they’ve understood it many times over. All of this posturing is fantastic if you’re trying to win a war in the media, it’s not good for getting anything done. Could the Giants be brazen enough to goad Oakland into a lawsuit against the A’s and MLB? The A’s and Oakland are only tied together via a lease deal at the Coliseum. As valued as history and tradition are, they are largely intangible. Collusion? R-i-i-i-ght. Does Oakland really want to go down the path of trying to prove that? They’re not the only ones with documents.

Would the Giants try to bring Bob Piccinini out of the woodwork to do the same? Ironically, Vincent Piazza sued MLB over the Giants’ aborted move to Tampa-St. Pete, and eventually got $6 million to go away. Unlike Piazza’s almost immediate action, a move to sue now would likely be beyond any statute of limitations. The fact is that suing to keep a team in town, even if you have a good case, isn’t much of a winner. It certainly didn’t work for Seattle.

Make no mistake, the Giants aren’t taking the T-rights matter lying down. It isn’t simply a matter of them being quickly and/or cheaply paid off. They want to defend their territory as vigorously as possible, and I don’t blame them. It’s really a matter of whether or not their whining will get more than a token acknowledgment as MLB looks towards further stabilizing the league as a whole.

As for Rule 52, even if it were in place (which isn’t verifiable at this point), it isn’t applicable to an A’s move to San Jose. It applies to moves near an established territory, not an invasion of a territory. It would’ve been applicable to an A’s move to Fremont, since either ballpark site was only 5 miles from the Santa Clara County line. Yet, did Peter Magowan raise a big fuss about it? Nope. Contrary to popular belief, it would’ve been applicable to the Expos’ move because portions of DC are within the 15-mile O’s territory buffer. Yet while Peter Angelos objected in the end, Rule 52 was nowhere to be found.


How bizarre would a lawsuit look? Oakland, backed by the Giants, would allege collusion between the A’s ownership and MLB. The A’s would probably counter that the antitrust exemption is keeping them from moving to San Jose. San Jose/Santa Clara County, not the A’s, would sue MLB and the Giants, thereby threatening the antitrust exemption. I’m sure that Bud Selig’s stockpiled a ton of antacid just in case.

Thinking out of the (sky) box

They are a necessary evil. They make new stadiums possible even as they detract from many fans’ experiences. They even go by different aliases. In the U.K. they are often called executive boxes. Here in America they usually go by the term luxury suites. Jon Miller has seen fit to call them condominiums. They used to be called skyboxes, before current stadium and arena architecture started to put them as close to event level as possible. Whatever you want to call them, they aren’t going away. The question is, what can we do to make them work better for all fans, not just the suite folks?

Before I get into a solution, a little history is required. During the post-Camden Yards building boom, ballparks were designed to enhance premium revenue generating possibilities. This meant building lots of suites and club seats. In the 90’s, architecture firms like HOK (now Populous) experimented with different configurations to accommodate team requirements. For the ChiSox, 2 suite levels sandwiched a club level. In Cleveland, 3 suite levels ran along the third base line while a club seating area was placed on the first base side. However, HOK wasn’t alone with its crimes against upper deck fans. NBBJ designed Safeco Field and Miller Park, both of which had conservative seating layouts. Same goes for Ellerbe Becket, whose Chase Field feels like a huge airplane hangar. HKS did the football stadium-like Rangers Ballpark.

By the turn of the millenium, a standard recipe had been found. Teams wanted 40-42,000 seats, 50+ suites, and several thousand club seats. Various other niceties were added in to achieve some sense of uniqueness, but the fundamental recipe was the same. Like a pop song’s structure, it wasn’t something to be trifled with. The recipe looked like this:

  • 40 rows at field level
  • 8-12 row club mezzanine
  • Suite level either above or below club mezzanine
  • Split upper deck containing 24-26 rows above suites, with or without an open concourse
  • 35-40 foot concourses

However the mezzanine is sliced up, the club/suite facilities add around 36 feet to the height of the stadium, and more importantly, the upper deck. This also causes the upper deck to be more steep, even though it usually isn’t cantilevered much over the lower deck. In these new ballparks, these choices create a more open, sunny environment. Unfortunately, in striking that bargain, intimacy is lost in the process.

Obviously, it isn’t possible to lose the suites and club seats. They need to be there, and they need to be attractive to the premium market. That means suites can’t be placed above and behind a third deck. They should be reasonably close to the field. Again, how to do this without hurting the upper deck fans?

Bring back the skybox
The great thing about building a 32-35,000 seat stadium is that the layout can be really compact. Each additional row adds about 500 fans. To get from 32k to 40k, 16 extra rows have to be built. That equates to an extra deck from foul pole to foul pole. For now, thankfully, we don’t have to worry about that pesky third deck.

In the third deck’s place, why not put the luxury suites there? To make them attractive, cantilever them over the second deck. Here’s a cross section:

It’s a very simple, compact, fan-friendly, intimate layout. An extended club seating area is at field level. Suites are elevated a bit, but they’re only 24 rows from the field (Second level is the press box). This placement accomplishes two goals that are seemingly at odds: bring suite holders close to the action while not adversely affecting the upper deck. As you’ll see from the next table, both would be closer than their counterparts at any modern ballpark.

The skybox location’s distance to home plate is on par with other ballparks whose suites are tucked under a second deck. It’s around 30 feet closer than in ballparks whose suites are under a third deck. The best part is that the upper deck in this model is nice and close. Its last row of the upper deck is 173′ from home plate. Most recent ballparks have a large, tall, swept back upper deck. The first row is 150′ from home plate, last row 250′ away.

Having trouble envisioning it? Take a look at these comparisons. First, this model vs. Target Field (AT&T Park is similar):

Next, the model vs. Citi Field (with Shea Stadium as well):

Finally, the model vs. New Yankee Stadium:

The model has one major drawback. Major expansion (8-10,000 seats) would be prohibitively expensive due to the suite level(s) in place. It could be constructed with the flexible seating system I described over the weekend to add up to 2,000 seats as needed. Also, the model shown has both the upper deck and the suites cantilevered. A column could be used, probably to cut costs.

Do you think this is a model the A’s should consider? How do you think it stacks up with 360’s Cisco Field model?

Expanding from within

Somehow, amidst all of the NBA and NHL playoff games, A’s and Giants baseball, and incessant NFL Draft coverage, I managed to carve out an hour of time to satisfy my stadium jones. This was thanks to the Science Channel, whose series, Build it Bigger, covered the construction of the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX.

The series gives solid profiles to major engineering and construction projects around the world. Two years ago, one of the subjects was University of Phoenix Stadium, the most similar existing design to what Jerry Jones is building. This week’s ep covered all of the major stuff, from the massive roof and arch system to the enormous center-hung video boards and the largest sliding glass doors in the world.

On a smaller albeit similarly impactful scale, a segment was devoted to what I feel is the most innovative thing about the stadium: the seats. Made by Australian manufacturer Camatic, the seating system is notable for the way it’s mounted. Most seating manufacturers mount seats directly to concrete risers. Over time, the only major innovations have been the switch from wood to plastic and the places of the mountain standards on the vertical part of the riser to facilitate easier postgame cleaning. Once seats are mounted, they can’t be moved or modified except to change out hardware when it breaks. One baseball-specific innovation has been the angling of seats towards a focal point, usually home plate.

Camatic’s Quantum series introduces an all new method: seats mounted on a beam. The beam is attached to the riser and seats snap into place along the beam. This allows for incredible flexibility, as seats of varying types and widths can be used, even on the same beam. They can be installed or removed quickly, creating more free space or additional capacity at a moment’s notice. Watch the video below to see the system in action.

Here’s an example of how this would work for the A’s. Let’s take a single section of seats, a matrix consisting of 18 rows of 24 19-inch seats. Each row would have to be at least 38 feet wide. To accommodate expansion, each row would be widened to 40 feet, which would allow for those 19-inch seats to take up 20-inch spaces. At the back of the section is an ADA-compliant row containing wheelchair spaces and companion seats.

Now let’s consider the possibility of a playoff series or All Star game. As the stadium operator, you’re obligated to keep a percentage of wheelchair spaces available for each price range. This time, unlike other stadia, you’ve designed the space to accommodate either wheelchair spaces or additional spaces easily. The wheelchair spaces are on a portable steel platform that can be removed and stowed out of sight. That would uncover two rows with unused beams. Ops can then bring in seats and mount them in minutes. In addition, those 20-inch seats can be turned into 19-inch seats with space remaining for an additional 25th seat per row.

The change nets an additional 51 seats per section. Projected out, that’s 1,000 more seats per level or 2,000 more seats in the ballpark. That means going from 32,000 to 34,000 with little fuss, and with room remaining for standing room admissions.

Camatic, which has experience in the US (Turner Field, Qwest Field), is onto something with its new seating system. If Lew really wants to manage seat capacity and inventory on a similar micro level as he does his hotels, it’s hard to ignore what Camatic brings to the table.

Forbes: A’s worth $319 million (-$4M)

This year’s Forbes valuations are out, and the A’s are down 1% from last year, which to me is surprising. I expected a bigger drop due to lower local revenue, but total team revenue actually rose from $154 to $160 million. This season’s the big test, as MLB is expected to take a broad hit, including the possibility of lower TV revenues if not redone TV contracts. If a drop in valuation is going to occur, it’ll be a year from now.

Bobb for Oakland mayor?

Former Oakland city manager Robert Bobb is doing more than just dipping a toe in city politics. He has expressed interest in the 2010 mayoral race, in which he would be running against Don Perata. It should at least shape up to be an epic race, with both candidates having campaign dollars and established political support at their disposal.

For those who haven’t kept up with Bobb’s doings since he left Oakland, here’s a summary:

  • Sept. 2003 – Dec. 2006: City Administrator for the District of Columbia. From all outward appearances, Bobb was brought in mostly to do the DC ballpark deal. Bringing MLB back to the District is no small feat, though it can be argued that the District got ripped off in the process. Regardless, it’s a feather in his cap.
  • Jan. 2007 – Dec. 2008: DC Board of Education President. I can’t comment on his tenure there, read this and this for more details.
  • Jan. 2009 – present: Emergency Financial Manager for Detroit Public Schools. Bobb was brought in to make drastic cuts in the school district’s budget. This will include closing up to 50 schools.
  • Bobb’s consulting firm has specialized in fixing bad fiscal situations in municipalities. Recently, this included cleaning up the budget mess left by his successor in Oakland, Deborah Edgerly.

It’s a bit early to predict what could happen ballpark-wise with Bobb, since we still have many steps to go, including the Blue Ribbon committee’s report. Should Bobb run and should Oakland elect Bobb, he’d be the guy to get a ballpark deal (site and political wrangling) done.

Previous posts on Robert Bobb:

It would be interesting to find out if Bobb’s interest in the job would wane if the A’s were fated to go to San Jose.

Jet Stream Stadium

If you’re a Canadian goose who happens to be a baseball fan, you might enjoy an easy wind-aided jaunt from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field to enjoy literal bird’s eye views of the new ballyard palaces. The distance, shortest among crosstown rivalries, is only 6.6 miles. Of course, you might get sucked into a jet engine, but that’s another story.

Like most baseball fans, I watched in wonder as the New Yankee Stadium opened and immediately turned into… a hitter’s park? Small sample sizes be damned, the place has already recorded 20 home runs in 4 games. With the Oakland Anemics Athletics coming to town, that average will likely drop. Still, it’d be nice for Giambi to rekindle that old short porch aim for this series, and for Holliday to connect down the LF line for his first in an A’s uniform.

Green-and-gold performance aside, there are probably hundreds of engineering students and professionals champing at the bit to determine the cause for the Bronx power spike. The Yankees have undoubtedly had their own studies done as well prior to construction, but it’s so curious that the ball just flies to right even though the old and new stadiums have the same orientation, and are only several hundred feet apart. Players and coaches are already blaming the phenomenon on prevailing winds, which appear to be a bigger factor in the new digs than the old digs. From an amateur perspective, there’s an explanation for the wind problem. It’s the Stadium’s open layout.

Old Yankee Stadium has a small footprint, and was designed by Osborn Engineering to make the most of very limited space. That meant putting in the massive overhanging upper deck, narrow concourses and ramps, and walls everywhere. New Yankee Stadium was designed by HOK Populous in response to Old Yankee’s deficiencies. Where walls once stood, there are now open concourses. All three concourses are open to the field. The upper deck, which is where most winds will come in before swirling around the seating bowl, has two sets of openings. Besides the concourse, the back of the upper deck has the now familiar fence instead of Old Yankee’s slits-in-concrete. The upper deck itself is not as steep as before. The roof is more extensive in New Yankee, but it’s hard to say how much of an effect it has on the wind as a whole.

Over in Queens, Citi Field has racked up 10 HR’s in 6 games. Its new orientation (NE instead of Shea’s ENE) and cavernous RF makes Citi Field a pitcher’s park more in the mold of PETCO or AT&T than any other East Coast ballpark. Side note: The Mets’ roster has no major lefty bats other than Carlos Delgado, who will soon be a free agent.

To understand the big difference between the two parks, I’ve constructed a quick overlay of New Yankee Stadium’s field over Citi Field.

Even without the weird notch (pointless affectation) in Citi’s RF, it can nearly envelop New Yankee’s field.

I haven’t had a chance to see every homer hit at New Yankee so far, but from what I could gather at least 3 landed in the RF first row, including Jorge Posada’s controversial pinch hit job earlier today. None of those would’ve gone out at Citi Field, and it could be argued that Old Yankee would’ve contained those flies as well. The Yankees claim that New and Old have the same dimensions, so what gives? It’ll be some time before we know. One other thing about the environment: In only one of the four games so far has the temperature been above 70 degrees at first pitch.

Historically, teams have averaged a 1 HR/game, with the trend fluttering above 1 during the steroid era. If this trend doesn’t settle down during the season, the Yanks will have major problems grooming and signing pitchers. Big parks like Safeco and Comerica had their fences brought in over time, just like Old Yankee Stadium. It’s much harder to expand a bandbox. For now, some of us can delight in the horrified looks on the Yankees’ brass as they realize their new home has just become Arlington or Denver.

Diridon’s Neighbors

Merc reporter Denis C. Theriault just penned an article capturing the state of affairs in and around the San Jose ballpark site. Reaction by neighbors is mixed as would be expected. Some demolition is expected to begin this summer, probably the old Amtrak/Butcher Electric building in the northeast corner, as well as the old KNTV studio. As these buildings are torn down, much needed parking goes up in place. On a weekday, daily parking in one of the area lots is $2-3, event parking $15-20.

One curious quote came from a resident of Delmas Park, the neighborhood between Diridon South and CA-87:

Just ask Chuck Bean, 60, who lives on Gifford Avenue in Delmas Park, where nearly all parking is by permit only — a concession granted after HP Pavilion was erected.

“People will park here anyway, despite the fact that there’s a $50 ticket. It doesn’t faze them,” he said from the house his wife’s grandparents bought in 1942.

All the more reason for more parking to be built in the area, in conjunction with additional event use and future transit hub use. Then again, maybe the city is “okay” with the situation since those $50 tickets help San Jose’s general fund?