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.