As part of Susan Slusser’s preview of next week’s owner’s meetings in Orlando, there’s a couple of paragraphs devoted to the stadium situation.
There has been speculation that Major League Baseball’s committee examining the A’s stadium might issue its findings during the meetings, but team owner Lew Wolff said that he does not believe that will be the case, though an announcement should come soon. “All we want is a yes or a no,” Wolff said of efforts to get approval for a stadium in San Jose.
So an announcement should come soon, but not next week. Calgon, take me away!
A year ago, I wrote about three options that MLB could pursue regarding the A’s. They could either A) approve a move south, B) deny the move, or C) give Oakland one more shot with a deadline. Given the recent news on Oakland’s front, such as it is (and the lack of news on MLB’s part), option C would appear to have been the choice, in retrospect. Whether Oakland is getting a full shot is unclear, they’ve gotten at the very least a year. Yet there are plenty of things that don’t seem to fit that make me wonder what the real endgame is here.
Earlier in the fall, there were murmurs of a pending decision, which South Bay boosters have held onto ever since. Wolff’s retreat from that position in Slusser’s piece indicates that something may have changed, but to what extent? Wolff has held firm to wanting a “yes or no” from Selig, while the boosters have framed the South Bay as a chance to “explore” the territory. MLB appears to be in communication with both San Jose and Oakland city governments, giving the whole affair the appearance of a horse race.
If you ask me, “horse race” is not the proper term. “Contingency plan” is much more apropos. I get the sense that with the economy the way it is, the difficulty in getting things done in California, the T-rights issue affecting San Jose, and the uncertainty regarding Oakland’s ability to pull a deal off, MLB may view a dual-track plan as the best course of action right now.
First, let’s understand what the Bay Area means to MLB from a historical context. If you read the blog post from before Thanksgiving, you might see the Bay Area as one big bag of fail. Couple that with the litany of failed attempts to get something built for the Giants, aborted attempts to move by both the Giants and A’s (Tampa Bay and Denver respectively), and a lengthy delay in getting the only new MLB ballpark in California built (PETCO), you might actually excuse MLB for not believing that any ballpark plan in the Bay Area was a sure thing. Frankly, I’d be cautious too.
And so it may be that MLB is going to approach the A’s solution in a manner that won’t satisfy boosters from either San Jose or Oakland. It’s highly possible that MLB will foster Oakland’s efforts, while granting Wolff his chance to “explore” the South Bay simultaneously. Those of you pro-Oakland folks will look at this and say that The Town will be screwed since San Jose is so far ahead in the process. Well, nothing stopped Oakland from starting this process a year or at worst six months ago, instead of now. The nice thing politically about the way Oakland has gone about this is that they haven’t had to spend any money or make any significant decisions. Now we’ve got IDLF demanding that MLB commit to Oakland before they spend money on an EIR, which probably got many a chuckle going in NYC and Milwaukee. MLB doesn’t have to commit to anything. In fact, they can turn it around and pay for some or all of the EIR, thereby forcing Oakland to start making some decisions.
As for San Jose, they’re not the undisputed winners, at least not yet. They’ll have one chance. That’s it. While Oakland officials have pointed to a 2015 opening day for a Victory Court ballpark, San Jose won’t have as long, with a 2014 opening looming instead. The 2013 end of the Coliseum lease makes this a necessity. There may also be some lingering disinterest in opening the T-rights can until San Jose is completely in the bag, which right now it isn’t at all. Political capital for Selig to get consensus from the owners may not happen until everything is signed, sealed, and delivered. Selig won’t move until he has that consensus. And as long as a referendum is the deciding factor, he may not want to push all of his chips towards San Jose.
Oakland, then, is a hedge. Suppose that MLB helps fund the EIR, just as they’ve promised to partly fund San Jose’s special election. Since it’s unlikely that Wolff would be involved in an Oakland ballpark, MLB could arrange an ownership change to Oakland interests once the ballpark deal was in place, probably by buying the team Expos-style. Knowing the position in which they sit, Oakland has to decide whether to move forward or not. There will be some who are clearly offended by being placed second in the process. They may ask to pull out of the running entirely. Or they could take advantage of the opportunity, following through on all of the necessary steps just in case San Jose blows up – just as Fremont and Coliseum North did. Is it a long shot? There’s no denying it. Over the last 15 years Oakland’s made missteps and had the deck stacked against them. Yet it still has a chance, however remote, of keeping the A’s. To not work with that would be the utmost display of spite and would give MLB every excuse to finalize the move to San Jose without the slightest tinge of regret.
For many who are wrapped up in civic identity, the A’s saga is a zero-sum game. For someone to win, the opponent has to lose. For the rest of us A’s fans, it’s not zero-sum at all. We just want the A’s to stay local and for the era of free agent sluggers spurning us to end. For different reasons, MLB probably has a similar view. They want 30 vital teams. Despite the occasional talk of contraction by tinfoil hatters out there, Selig doesn’t want the failure of two contracted teams on his resume. There’s a decent chance that if San Jose doesn’t work out, Oakland will get its chance, and if that doesn’t work out – well, someone’s been thinking about what might happen in that case.