What We Know About Oakland…

Ken Korach is awesome. He is professional. He is erudite. He is classy. As my Quasiuncle Lester always says, “Ken Korach just sounds like summer.” It was nice to start the off season with some good news for us A’s fans, Ken Korach is staying put. It was good news because the move brought some semblance of continuity to a fan ecosphere that has become increasingly chaotic and unstable. It was also good news because Ken Korach is among the best in the business. One of my favorite aspects of the Ken Korach broadcast, just behind “The lights are on but not yet taking effect,” is when, at a critical juncture, he brings total clarity by “resetting” the game. He explains the situation, gives the count, and explains how the game got to whatever critical juncture it had arrived at.

With all the speculation in the media lately, it seems it is time to reset the stadium game a bit. No?

What do we know? I was reading through the comments in a recent thread (one that had devolved into another San Jose v. Oakland steel cage scaffold match) and this question came to me. In particular, “What do we know about Oakland, still the A’s home city of record, and it’s efforts to keep the team?” So, what has Oakland done? The answer is, more than San Jose boosters will admit and less than Oakland boosters believe. There is nuance here.

Let’s start with the stuff we know for certain:

Nine months ago the Oakland City Council authorized up to $750k for an EIR to support the potential development of a MLB stadium just south of Jack London Square (depicted below and outlined in green and red):

Prior to the authorization of the EIR, Oakland met with Bud Selig’s committee and the City was asked to provide potential ballpark sites. They listed four potential sites for the committee. The Coliseum, Howard Terminal and JLS West as well as the Victory Court site depicted above.

Additionally, the City was asked to provide a plan for acquiring the site, relocating businesses and making necessary upgrades to the surrounding infrastructure. Oakland’s plan was to tap RDA funds to carry out this task.

Let’s Go Oakland, without prompting from MLB’s committee, collected $500k from around 30 potential suite owners.

Publicly, that is all we know. MLB asked for some specific things, Oakland delivered (at least a concept in the case of financing site acquisition while RDA works its way through the legal system). Oakland boosters also took an extra step to show there is a premium ticket market in Oakland and the East Bay. These things above have been confirmed by Doug Boxer, co-chair of Let’s Go Oakland.

What else have we heard? Well, we heard Bryan Grunwald’s 980 Ballpark concept had been tabbed as an alternative to be studied in the EIR. We have heard that maybe MLB had floated a potential loan of $150M for a ballpark in Oakland. We heard that Clorox might be interested in naming rights. We know that Jean Quan and Lew Wolff met recently and we heard they talked about the Coliseum and Victory Court.

None of these things are verifiable. Therefore, we don’t know these things.

This leaves us waiting for one thing: the completion of the aforementioned EIR. What’s troubling about this is that when the EIR process was being discussed, it was mentioned by Oakland Boosters that the whole process could be done within a year. As ML outlined at the time, it could have been done in a year, provided the Draft EIR was completed within 3, or so, months. This week we heard rumblings that the EIR hasn’t even begun because of ongoing negotiations between the City and the firm doing the work.

To be clear, we don’t know anything about the EIR at this point. We don’t know when it will be delivered. We don’t know that it has started. The Draft EIR could almost be done.

Just like we don’t know anything about stadium construction financing in Oakland. There could be a neatly sewn up package of naming rights, sponsorship deals, a loan and charter seat sales just waiting for Larry Ellison, of Mark Cuban, to pry the team from Lew Wolff. There could be back room discussions with the local State legislators to work out bonds backed by the income taxes of the Athletics players to help finance construction, as was pitched in Portland when they were trying to get the Expos to come to town.

And this is the challenge with Oakland’s strategy of saying nothing and waiting out Lew Wolff’s time as an owner… It leaves all kinds of room for wild speculation and wrong assumptions. The question for me, which admittedly leads to more speculation, is “Why isn’t Oakland sharing the path they see to a new stadium being built in their fine City?”

I have heard and read many different versions of why they aren’t being open. They don’t want Wolff to know the plan so that he can’t poke holes in it. They are working around Wolff with MLB and MLB wants them to be quiet. The sponsors they have lined up don’t want Wolff to know they support an Oakland plan because they want to have sponsorship opportunities in San Jose should that be the eventual choice.

Here’s another potential reason for the strategy: they are hiding the fact that there are no answers to the tough questions everyone wants to hear answers to.

There could be any number of reasons for the tight lipped approach. Until someone speaks up, we will all be left guessing.

Who’s staying where?

If you tend to read things too quickly, especially headlines, you could be forgiven for misinterpreting one or more of the following headlines I gathered for the Google:

See, I read the headline from the Stiglich “…Beane says he expects team to remain in Oakland”. Everything we’re hearing is still so fuzzy and noisy, perhaps all headlines require a double take.

Again, there isn’t any legitimately new news, only a shift in tone that we’re detecting. In Slusser’s piece, Beane walks back the moving talk slightly:

“Over the course of the 2 1/2 years we’ve been told it,” Beane said. “So this time, I’m going to believe it.”

The difference between now and the previous 2 1/2 years is that Beane hasn’t spoken out about the decision much, only to say that the A’s need a new ballpark.

Lest you think the organization only hires company men, there is this quote from Bob Melvin (via the AP piece):

“Lew won’t want to hear this, I kind of like the place,” Melvin said. “I grew up here, I went to concerts, it’s well-documented. I know that it’s outdated and we need a new place.”

Then again, if Melvin is still A’s manager come 2015 in a San Jose ballpark, you can expect him to praise the new venue profusely (without dumping on the Coli too much).

The Game is on the rebound

We wondered if rebranding of 95.7 and the hiring of new hosts would help. It sure looks like it has. September ratings are due next week, but it doesn’t hurt to take a peek at how the stations performed in August.

It’ll be interesting to see how the offseason shapes up. Not having the Giants on the air should prove an equalizer, which should provide The Game plenty of opportunity to gain in the ratings. The Game’s football coverage is already tons better than KNBR, with Greg Papa and Eric Davis providing credibility for both local teams and a dedicated college football show on Saturdays. Chris Townsend will have Gio Gonzalez picking football games regularly, which will hopefully lead to a regular A’s hot stove show to keep fan interest going. Slow and steady, it looks like progress.

Opening series in Japan announced

The A’s will be making a return trip to Japan in March 2012, scheduling two “home” dates against the Mariners as part of a nine-day sojourn to the land of the rising sun.

The games will be played at the Tokyo Dome on March 28 and 29 (Wednesday-Thursday). To make up for the two Japan games, two home games against the M’s will now be off days: April 8 (Easter Sunday) and July 5 (a Thursday first game of a four-game set).

Will this mean the A’s are more aggressive in trying to re-sign Hideki Matsui? Maybe Godzilla, a notoriously late starter, will respond better by starting off the season a week early.

Note: The Tokyo Dome sold out both games of the A’s-Red Sox series in 2008 (44,628 and 44,735 respectively).

Baseball San Jose’s Moneyball showing tonight

It’s probably too late for you to get a free ticket, but you can get $1 if you show up rocking either A’s or BBSJ gear at the wonderful Camera 12 in downtown San Jose tonight at 6:15 PM. If you haven’t seen Moneyball yet, now’s the time to atone for your insolence. If you have seen the film, you can start working on remembering some of the great snappy dialogue.

The actual time of the movie is 6:50, though you should get there early if you want to talk ballparks, A’s, etc. I’ll be there at 5:45 and will either hold court at Starbucks or Philz. If you see me, we can talk. No big whoop.

Adventures in re-signing

If you weren’t convinced the A’s “stadium or die” stance regarding re-signing Josh Willingham was real, get ready for confirmation. Now it’s Coco Crisp’s agent, Steve Comte, who’s breaking the bad news thanks to tonight’s Susan Slusser article:

Comte… said he also believes the A’s spending will depend on the speed and the outcome of a stadium decision. Last week, Josh Willingham’s agent, Matt Sosnick, told The Chronicle that he’d gone to the A’s with proposals for a multi-year deal but was told the team is in wait-and-see mode while Major League Baseball continues to examine territorial rights issues that affect where a potential new stadium would be built – currently two and a half years of deliberations and counting.

Comte said that he hasn’t spoken to Oakland general manager Billy Beane recently, but he said, “The reality is that we knew in spring training that the situation with the stadium could impact their long-term spending.”

Slusser goes on to describe the Giants as Crisp’s #1 suitor. Crisp projects as a Type B free agent, meaning he’s worth a supplemental first round pick (a.k.a. “sandwich pick”) if he is offered arbitration, declines (as would be expected), and signs elsewhere.

Again, I have to say that I think we’re talking about the difference between a $50 million payroll and a $70 million payroll, not a gutting of the young talent (at least not right away). I can’t say that it’s a good idea to involve players and agents in this stadium business, but as long as everyone’s aware of the factor(s), I suppose it’s better to be above board than to couch everything in euphemisms.

At least the A’s made one key re-signing today: Ken Korach has been extended through the 2014 season.

Update 9/27 12:00 AM – Another down note – the deal between the A’s and the City of Phoenix for improvements to Phoenix Municipal Stadium is apparently dead, with the A’s probably on the move after their lease expires in 2014. That is, unless something miraculous happens to bring the A’s and City back to the table. The A’s aren’t alone in abandoning Phoenix, as the Brewers are prepared to leave Maryvale even sooner (2012). 

News for 9/26/11

Haven’t done one of these for a while. Good links in here.

  • Governor Jerry Brown will, in fact, sign that LA football stadium bill. Guess he’s not such a sports hater after all. /s
  • The Merc’s Mike Rosenberg profiles Jack Hill, the Texas guy who gets things built. What things? Cowboys Stadium and American Airlines Center to name two.
  • At Grantland, Malcolm Gladwell juxtaposes the NBA’s talk of financial ruin with the Nets/Atlantic Yards deal.
  • According to Biz of Baseball’s Rob Smith, Rays owner Stuart Sternberg needs a stalking horse to get the ball rolling on a new ballpark in Tampa-St. Pete.
  • Bleacher Report’s Brandon McClintock has his own debate about what the Willingham situation means for the A’s.
  • The NY Times reports that there are red flags over Cal’s ability to pay for the Memorial Stadium makeover.
  • As the season ends, Bryan Stow is getting better.
  • Oakland Unified School District plans to close as many as 13 schools by the end of the school year, and up to 30 more over the next two years.
  • Yesterday’s sellout crowd of 61,546 at the Coliseum was the largest for a Raiders home game in two years (via CSN’s Paul Gutierrez).
  • Also in the NY Times is an article that asks if we are in a new dead ball era.
  • Rangers Ballpark finished the season with 228 home runs hit there, leading baseball. The Coliseum had 109.
  • San Rafael approved a deal to bring a North American League club to the city’s Albert Park.
  • It’s worth checking out Merc writer Dan Brown’s chat segment about Moneyball.
  • There is expected to be a press conference today in Seattle to announce the 2012 opening series between the A’s and M’s in Japan.
  • Added 6:22 PM – The NY Mets know how to play the T-rights game too, having denied the Yankees’ request to temporarily host their AAA affiliate in Newark, NJ for a year while their permanent home in Scranton-Wilkes Barre is renovated.

I’ll add more if I see anything else worth mentioning.