MLB’s very own death panel

Forum thread

Debate may be raging on Capitol Hill about the future of America’s health care system, but in the Bay Area we have our own health-of-the-A’s debate and it clearly involves its own death panel. The three-person panel appointed before the season by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was initially tasked with analyzing previous ballpark proposals and the prospects for a new ballpark in the East Bay. Since then, the panel has expanded its search to the South Bay while remaining engaged with Oakland, and as we’ve found out recently, Fremont.

Many have thought all along that the panel’s mission was simply to rig the game and get it in writing. The new set of site proposals and an admission by Lew Wolff that he may have to investigate another Oakland option seems to contradict this sentiment. Now that Oakland, Fremont, and San Jose all appear to be in play to some extent, it’s clear that once the panel makes a recommendation and a decision is rendered, the future of MLB in at least one city will be sealed. Will Oakland cease to be a major league city? Will San Jose’s efforts once again be stillborn? Will Fremont become a mere footnote, along the lines of an Irwindale? Then again, it may not be as simple as letting it be written. MLB could give themselves and the A’s a lot of flexibility by rendering a “nuanced” recommendation. Gary Peterson took a stab at trying to figure out this mess, I think it could be more complex. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

  • The panel rules that Oakland is no longer an option and recommends a move to San Jose. If you’re a conspiracy theorist, you’ve got money on this one. Backstory abounds, from panel member Corey Busch perhaps wanting to screw the Giants to Bud Selig’s apparent hatred of Oakland. While South Bay partisans won’t publicly admit it, they have to like how familiar and cozy the relationship is between Selig and Wolff, Wolff and Busch, Wolff and the other owners. This same panel oversaw the disintegration of the Expos and the team’s subsequent rebirth as the Nationals. The head of the panel, Bob Starkey, has had no shortage of controversy related to MLB’s financial matters. Yet even if the deck weren’t stacked against Oakland, there isn’t a great deal of evidence to support “The Town.” Oakland partisans love to point out the support during the Haas era, but I argue that if it take multiple WS trips and break-the-bank payrolls and deficits in order to elicit good support, your argument isn’t that strong. Fan support in other years has ranged from poor to average. If your pitch is “We’ll support a team that respects us,” well guess what folks? You’re leaving the barn door wide open. All teams go through down years. All teams have crappy ownership from time to time. The measure of a fanbase is how they respond during those lean years, not just the good ones. By that measure, A’s fans (and I’m proud to say I am one) have not done well. The only thing that makes a bitterly cold Monday night game in April and May worse is knowing there should be more of us out there to support this team we love.
  • Territorial rights are upheld, keeping the team from moving south. While there is growing sentiment that this won’t happen due to economics, don’t dismiss the possibility that the notoriously conservative Lodge would keep the status quo. It could set the stage for the A’s to leave the area completely, though Portfolio.com’s recent market study indicates that there are fewer relocation candidates than in years past (Thanks Ezra). I’m more of the opinion that Fremont, which was dead in February, could come back to life. Now that we know that NUMMI is closing next March, the landscape has changed there somewhat. NUMMI’s land holdings and impact are so large that any new development will have to be done within a large master planning framework, which could take years. If the panel finds that at least one of Oakland’s sites is a winner, negotiations on a downtown ballpark could be set in motion. Which could bring up that “nuanced” position…
  • The panel recommends that the A’s work with Oakland, but sets a deadline. It could be a year, 18 months, 2 years. The idea is that Oakland would be given one last shot to show they have the wherewithal to get a ballpark deal done. They’d probably have to aggressively pursue the privately held land, start the EIR process, and work on a development plan that makes the concept compatible with downtown/JLS development guidelines/zoning. Oakland would have to show that it has the finances ready by issuing RDA bonds, selling any banked land, and identifying whatever additional federal sources (stimulus) it might need to assemble the ballpark site. If Oakland doesn’t make enough progress or hit certain milestones, the A’s would then be allowed to explore the South Bay. For many this could be considered fair, though the matter of whether or not Oakland has gotten a fair shot in the past is entirely subjective, especially based on this site’s comments.

The panel’s recommendation will have far reaching effects. If Oakland is shut out (Option #1) or fails to meet MLB’s demands (Option #3), it is an absolute certainty that MLB’s – not just the A’s – days in Oakland are numbered. For many that view the team as regional rather than city-based, this is not that big a deal. For those who view the team as an Oakland cultural institution and a source of civic pride, it’s the end of pro baseball in Oakland. It may also be the last shot for San Jose, since they have no prospects for a team outside of the A’s. There will never be three MLB teams in the Bay Area, the market isn’t big enough to support three teams. As fans, we can only hope that whatever the panel’s recommendation is, it’s fair and clear in its goals. That’s the least they can do for A’s fans, who’ve been through a lot over the years.

25 thoughts on “MLB’s very own death panel

  1. Marine Layer,

    That’s a fair analysis of the situation. However, I don’t agree as far as the effect on attendance from an unresponsive ownership which constantly threatens relocation. I’m hoping for option C, but I’m afraid option A is in the works. However, if option C is recommended we need a mechanism implemented to verify that this time Lew Wolff is actually attempting to be productive instead of viewing this as another opportunity to use stall tactics to once again derail Oakland .

  2. Damn Raiders! ;o(…
    I may be in the minority, but I still feel the panels mission is to rig the game and get it in writing. I’ve personally seen/read anything over the past 6+ months to convince me otherwise. Last weeks site revelations doesn’t change that in my opinion. Also R.M., perhaps I’ve missed something, but I don’t ever recall an admission by LW stating he would have to investigate another Oakland option. He has stated in the past that perhaps there was a site in Oakland that they may have overlooked, but all the news and articles of the past couple of months (John Fisher speaking loud and clear!) hints at that grand ole song “Do you know the way to San Jose!”

    For once I actually agree with Nav; option A is in the works! Why do I think that? Because there are no good reasons whatsoever to keep San Jose “hostage” just because of the Giants and their born-in-1992 territorial rights, and MLB finally is realizing this. As Kettmann stating in his SanFranMag piece and the KNBR interview, the Giants won’t be hurt one bit by moving the A’s further south, and all of MLB (Giants and A’s included) will benefit financially. Even Zimbalist alluded to this with his “30,000 ft” above the Bay Area comment the other day. And with the other two-team MLB markets being shared territories, well…I’ll just end it there.

    • I meant to say “personally haven’t seen/read anything…”

      • Tony,

        Does it matter to you if the Oakland A’s leave Oakland and get to San Jose in less than ethical ways? Or, do you not care, and just want a team in San Jose regardless how they get there? If you do get the team in San Jose, is it important to you that they be called the “San Jose A’s” or would you be just as happy with a name which would represent the region like “Bay Area A’s?” I’m just curious if San Jose is really pursuing the A’s for the good of baseball in the region or as a “San Jose only ” endeavor.

      • Less than ethical ways? Regardless of how the A’s get down here? What the hell are you talking about?

        By the way, was it un-ethical for the A’s to leave Philly? Was it un-ethical for the A’s to leave KC? Was it un-ethical for Oakland to ignore the A’s in the early 90’s and build Mt. Davis? Was it un-ethical for Oakland to give the A’s a backhand in the early part of this decade and allow condos at Uptown? Less than ethical ways? Please explain Nav. Actually, never mind!

        And for the record, of course I would want the A’s to rename themselves “San Jose” when/if they get down here; everyone who’s been on this blog for the past 5 years knows this. Just like the Giants became “SF” after leaving NY, the Dodgers becoming “LA” after Brooklyn, A’s becoming “Oak” after leaving KC. Cmon Nav!

      • — For one thing, the A’s, in one sense, would not have a choice. San Jose would NOT support the move if the team was going to be the Oakland Athletics of San Jose. They MIGHT go along with it if it was Silicon Valley A’s, but only grudgingly, and probably only to rally support from the surrounding cities, of which probably would not mind the A’s being called San Jose, for the same reason that towns around Oakland and San Francisco or any other major city don’t mind.
        — Another part of it is that the Oakland brand name has a negative connotation about it. When you mention Oakland around the nation, people will generally say either “Where?” or associate it with Crime-similar to how people think crime when they hear Detroit. Like it or not, that is the image that Oakland has in the rest of the country. I’m going to school in Chicago, and that’s what their image of Oakland as well. Its going to take the city a lot of time, money and effort to scrub that image clean, probably starting with a major revitalization project, and a crackdown to essentially get rid of all crime in the city. Unfortunately, the most likely solution for this would be to push lower income families out of the city, and make them become someone Else’s problem, as other towns such as Albany, Piedmont, and other (even in Oakland) wealthy neighborhoods have done. And that would only be the start-they’d still have to convince people that Oakland was safe.

  3. I think that Death Panel is an inapplicable analogy.
    .
    First, it is a far-right rhetorical construct that has little to do with reality in actual healthcare.
    .
    Second, if even one accepts the metaphor, it doesn’t work in this situation.
    .
    The A’s are the patient.
    The cities aren’t the patient.
    The ballparks are the medical facilities.
    The present facility, the Colisum, is substandard and hasn’t been serving the patient well for quite a while.
    The patient has decided that enough is enough.
    First he hoped to get treated in somewhere else in Oakland, but saw no possiblities that he liked.
    Then he tried arrange something in Fremont, but ultimately that city couldn’t/wouldn’t accommodate him.
    Now he wants to get treated in Silicon Valley, and the local powers-that-be seem eager to accommodate him.
    But it’s not clear whether his insurers (The Giants and MLB) will let him go to SV.
    If they won’t let let him go there, then he will either continue to get worse in Oakland, or decide to leave the region altogether.
    .
    Selling the team is another option, but I’m not clever enough to work that possibility into my metaphor.

    • Jane Brunner ,

      Has to realize that these guys work for MLB and Bud Selig. They need to put on a good show because they realize some very powerful politicians are keeping track of what’s going on. Sure, Oakland can remain optimistic, but Oakland needs to also prepare its legal response if in the end this does turn out the way many people suspect it will. Any organization which sets up a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to purposely delay a vote so that one of its members, Steve Schott, doesn’t have to sell the team to a pro Oakland buyer per the contract with the City of Oakland, can never be fully trusted. In all honesty, Oakland shouldn’t even be in a position of competing with a city 50 miles down the road in order to keep its team. If Oakland ends up losing this team to San Jose, we can point directly to that Blue Ribbon Commission which allowed Steve Schott to fraudulently keep ownership of the franchise. That fraud kept the Oakland A’s in the hands of South Bay interests which then transfered ownership to another South Bay interest looking to relocate the team to San Jose. Unfortunately, some Oakland politicians are a bit naive. Oakland needs to be extremely vigilante on this and Oakland needs a contingency plan.

      • Hey Navigator,

        Some dude named Elmano is stealing your schtick over on the facebook page. You should sue him.

  4. For MLB, option 3 carries the significant plus that it doesn’t tell one city to go to hell forever. In a time where every deal everywhere could fall through, that’s not an unimportant value, for hedging bets or for creating competition for the bidding. I now expect The Committee report will recommend a fixed exclusive Oakland window of 18-24 months like you describe…which is about 180° from what I expected from the fig leaf/rubber stamp body I believed it to be.

    However, if it is option 3 it’ll include something more for the A’s and SJ than just the chance to hope for two years of failure. How about this: at the same time, the A’s and Giants get a window to settle the South Bay for themselves. SF could say no as it always has, of course, but it’d be interesting to see how adamant the Giants remained if it looked like a new Jack London park was otherwise a go. For their part, concurrent windows could call the A’s owners’ hand…You really want to play in San Jose? How much are you willing to pay the SFGs for the privilege?

    • Just Great! Another 18-24 months after nearly 15 years!

      I like metaphors: after 15 years of a bad, bad relationship, the girl says enough is enough and decides to move 40 miles south to live with a great guy who will treat her right. All of sudden, ole guy shows up with a picture of 4 houses he wants to buy (but can’t afford) and tells girl “please, please, just give me another 18-24 months and I promise I’ll change! We’ll live happily ever after in one of these fine homes” Girl tells ole guy “Go to hell forever!”

      Seriously though, enough is enough.

      By the way, how much did the Giants pay for the rights back in 1992? Who directs this theater?; the Giants or MLB?

  5. If the panel recommends option 2 or 3, it would be an indication that they believe not only that a site in Oakland is doable, but that a ballpark in Oakland will financially serve the A’s well over the long-term. The City of Oakland can do its part in facilitating the first part, but it will ultimately be up to the A’s fans to make the second part happen.

  6. ML,

    Maybe now might be a good time to start a thread soliciting opinions as to what fans think will be the panel’s decision.

    • The panel will not make a recommendation based soley on what’s good for the A’s. Their recommendation is going to express the collective interests of the league as a whole.

      The proper question to ask is whether MLB is better off with the A’s in Oakland or in SJ.

      • You are probably correct. However, from a public relations standpoint, the panel’s report will have to be worded in such a way as to highlight what’s best for the A’s. The casual baseball fan could care less about MLB. All they want is what’s best for their team.

        How do you think the panel will go about evaluating the long-term financial prospects of Oakland, Fremont and SJ?

      • You would need an economist to answer this question. My own rather uniformed opinion tells me that potential “growth” sites are what would fill the bill as far as MLB is concerned. I think it’s rather clear that San Jose and the Silicon Valley area in general have the “tech” sector locked up. The future trends that the tech industry is bound to grow, and with that growth comes the market that MLB lusts after. In 30 years can you imagine any scenario in which Oakland is anything other than it currently is? Does that same prediction apply to SJ?

  7. One option that is left out is the one I think might be in Bud’s back pocket… A recommendation to share the 8 counties currently split between the A’s and Giants.

    Why? It allows the A’s, and more likely Bob DuPuy, to push both at the same time. It doesn’t halt any momentum in either city. It might speed up the process. And, it might give MLB the option to say, “If you could sweeten the deal by covering $X of construction costs we might have a deal.”

    Mind you, I am not advocating for this and I am pretty sure both cities would tell MLB to stuff it. Just saying, I can see how this might be the road MLB wants to go down.

    • Jeffrey,
      I think you nailed it with the sharing idea: especially with the other two-team MLB markets being shared. I mean, if you go by the Zimabist “30k feet up” theory and the fact that the rights exist only because the G’s were supposed to relocate to SJ themselves, than the Giants Territorial Rights to San Jose are viewed as absolutely ridiculous; perhaps MLB finally agrees.

    • Jeff,

      I think ultimately some form of sharing will be the route MLB will take. As a compromise, MLB will allow the Giants to hold on to it’s base in the North Bay, SF and the peninsula, but SC will be opened up to the A’s in a shared arrangement. The A’s will continue to hold on to the rights to CC and Alameda counties. This arrangement allows the A’s to still consider sites in Oakland, Fremont and SJ, and it still gives the Giants access to the south bay market.

    • Actually I think that this is the best solution overall—this would allow Wolff and company to make their own decision as to where they want to locate–afterall—they are the ones proposing to invest $500M of their own money—what I wouldn’t expect to happen is any “additional dollars” being invested by the cities. This would allow for Wolff and company to go through the SJ process (their preferred option) and if it does not work know that Oakland has something that might work—

  8. Looks like Oakland has ruled out one thing that would definitely have made them more appealing than San Jose for MLB and the A’s ownership. They’ve ruled out any use of public money for the stadium construction. Seems to me that it is a smart financial decision for a stadium in a city with as many monetary and social issues as Oakland, but at the same time it may have been a requirement for the current owners and maybe even MLB for public money to be used. The A’s owners have shown little interest in spending their own cash in a city like Oakland (depressed, 3rd most dangerous city in the US, etc…), so public money might have been something that could have enticed them back. Now Oakland has put the A’s in the position of having to spend their own cash in a city that they’d already ruled out and given up on.

    http://www.eastbayexpress.com/92510/archives/2009/12/10/oakland-details-new-ballpark-sites

    • Consider that Oakland doesn’t have much to offer in terms of public monies, anyway, not least in part due to the Raiders fiasco. Still, I agree in general. I prefer that it’s privately financed but that makes it more of an uphill battle for Oakland to keep the A’s in town.

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