Lew Wolff And The ‘Evil Owner’ Battle Royale
In a refreshing change of pace, there's recently been some interesting news about the Oakland A's quest for a new ballpark. Yesterday news broke that there's a new proposal for a stadium at Howard Terminal in Oakland which generated understandable enthusiasm among the fan-base. That was followed later in the day by a story from the Bay Area News Group in which maligned team owner Lew Wolff quickly shot down the idea.
The whole thing sent a large number of A's fans on Twitter into a tizzy with Wolff serving as a punching bag and the tiresome evil owner narrative playing out the way it always does when he opens his mouth.
I'm just as guilty as the next A's fan of occasionally railing against Wolff in the innumerable moments of frustration during the team's long, fruitless pursuit of a new ballpark. If I enjoyed artist's renderings of A's ballparks that never get built I'd be loving this prolonged soap opera, but I guess I've finally gotten tired of seeing the old man cast in the role of conniving villain. The whole process has become tiresome and frustrating with plenty of parties worth shaking a fist at. It just seems lazy and simplistic to furiously rail against Wolff.
Don't get me wrong, the anti-Wolff vitriol can definitely be entertaining and I'm certainly not a fan of man's role in the team's search for a new home. In a perfect world, the owner of the Oakland A's would try to keep the A's in Oakland. At a bare minimum, I'd love to see Wolff find a cure to his seemingly terminal case of foot-in-mouth disease just so we can finally enjoy bland, PR-friendly responses to reporters' questions about the team's ballpark situation. Ultimately, I just want to see the A's stay in the Bay Area and I don't really care if that ends up being in Oakland, Fremont or San Jose.
Wolff is simply a businessman who wants to move the A's because he thinks it's good for business and even better for his pocketbook over the long term. That's what businessmen do. Historically speaking, moving is what the A's do. They bailed on Philadelphia for Kansas City and then they ditched K.C. for Oakland. Shaking loose of the East Bay for San Jose would fit right in with the franchise's wandering ways.
If there really are "evil" sports owners out there I'm not sure Wolff truly ranks in that category. Here's my quick, totally unscientific, look at how Wolff stacks up against some real and fictional "evil" sports owners:
Wolff vs. The Judge from The Natural
So how does Wolff match up against the villain from The Natural?
Well, The Judge is out to undermine New York Knights manager Pop Fisher by doing everything he can to make the team a loser so he can take advantage of a contract clause and gain full ownership of the franchise if they fail to win the pennant.
I guess you could make the argument that the relatively modest budget Wolff gives general manager Billy Beane to work with puts the team in a position to lose but that's stretching really far to portray the A's owner in the same evil light as The Judge.
Also, The Judge's lack of support for the Knights actually creates an opportunity for the coaching staff to build a winning team with players other franchises would probably never look at such as Roy Hobbs. That's often what the small-budget A's are forced to do and Hobbs is exactly the kind of power-hitting, post-hype veteran minor league sleeper that the similarly resource-challenged A's would take a flier on. Is Brandon Moss currently Oakland's Roy Hobbs? Were Geronimo Berroa and Matt Stairs Oakland's Hobbs for the previous generations of Beane's teams? For the sake of this silly little post, why not?
The Judge thought that playing the role of evil owner would bring down the Knights. However, he actually put them in a position to find a hidden gem like Hobbs to carry them to the top of the standings. Wolff's tight budget is simply there to ensure the A's clear a profit every season, but it also leads to the team unearthing cheap, productive players and finding creative ways to win.
You can say what you want about Wolff being an "evil" owner. As far as we know he's never tried to bribe a player to take a dive in the playoffs the way The Judge did with Hobbs before that one game playoff at the end of "The Natural" and he's never associated with a known gambler like Gus Sands.
So who's the "Evil Owner?" Wolff attracts a boatload of nasty comments on Twitter, but The Judge easily wins this matchup. He's a nasty little bastard isn't he? If you're looking for the proverbial "Evil Owner," The Judge is your man.
Wolff vs. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria
Loria probably has more in common with A's majority owner John Fisher since they both love to collect fabulously expensive paintings, but this post is about Wolff so we'll ditch Fisher and get back on track.
Loria basically ran the Montreal Expos into the ground and was rewarded for his incompetence with ownership of the Marlins. He then managed to squeeze a shiny new ballpark out of Miami. After an initial spending spree, Loria has proceeded to gut the roster, alienate fans and turn gaudy Marlins Park into a ghost town. Wolff should be so lucky.
If you want to paint Wolff out to be an evil owner, Loria should be his mentor because even though he's roundly despised he's managed to own two MLB clubs, win a championship and finagle a new stadium out of Florida taxpayers.
So who's the "Evil Owner?": Loria wins this one because he's managed to break the hearts of two fan bases over the course of his dubious career. You have to tip your hat to the man for getting a World Series trophy and ballpark out of it all. If Wolff is ever going to be the "evil" owner some A's fans paint him out to be, this is the most successful kind of evil owner to be.
Wolff vs. Rachel Phelps from Major League
In Major League, Phelps hates Cleveland and she wants to move the Indians south to Florida by taking advantage of a favorable lease condition. She gives the Indians almost nothing to work with which initially plunges them to the bottom of the standings and drives fans away in droves.
Hmmmm ... Wolff is portrayed as hating Oakland and he wants to move the team south to San Jose. He's been working under a favorable lease at the Coliseum for years and currently has an easy out in just 2 years. Some disenchanted A's fans might argue that the payroll he gives Beane to work with sometimes holds the team back and drives down attendance.
Wow, were Wolff and Phelps separated at birth? The pair just seem so darn evil. If they had a baby would it have horns, a forked tongue and a sharp tail? If you're part of the Wolff-is-an-evil-owner crowd the answer to that is probably a resounding, "Yes!"
So who's the "Evil Owner?": Aside from the fact that Phelps is a gorgeous former showgirl and Wolff is a not-at-all-gorgeous old businessman, they actually seem to have a lot in common if you happen to be a dyed-in-the-wool Wolff hater and conspiracy theorist. It's impossible not to see plenty of similarities. Let's face it, the A's own flagship radio station 95.7 The Game used to have a commercial comparing the 2012 A's to the plot of Major League.
I'll tag Phelps as the "evil owner" here. She doesn't want to see the Indians win and she just wants to move the team to Florida to be somewhere sunny and warm. Wolff seems to enjoy seeing the A's win but he's not willing to spend enough money to jeopardize turning a profit. From where I'm sitting it looks like he's chasing San Jose because he thinks that's where ownership can tap into the most lucrative and sustainable revenue stream.
So there you have it, Lew Wolff is not an evil owner.
He has some work to do before he can stand alongside the unholy trinity of The Judge, Jeffrey Loria, Rachel Phelps and just about any other real or imagined "evil" sports owner you can come up with.
Wolff also has a long way to go before he can enjoy watching the A's opening game at a new ballpark. With the odds stacked against him and the clock ticking on the team's 2-year lease at the Coliseum he better pick up the pace working in the back rooms with Oakland, San Jose, Major League Baseball and the San Francisco Giants to hammer something out in the Bay Area while we're all still relatively young.