Tale Of Two Decembers For Coliseum-Weary A’s Owner

by Jason Leary | Posted on Sunday, December 22nd, 2013
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A lot of frustrated A's fans may want owner Lew Wolff to sell the team to someone who'll keep the franchise in Oakland but he's not interested.

A lot of frustrated A’s fans may want owner Lew Wolff to sell the team to someone who’ll keep the franchise in Oakland but he’s not interested.

On Dec. 24, 2011 USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted that it looked like MLB would approve the Oakland A’s proposed move to San Jose soon. The good news got me all fired up because it looked like the team’s long, frustrating search for a new ballpark in the Bay Area might finally be over.

All signs and top #MLB sources say that the #Athletics will be granted permission by Feb to move to San Jose.

— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 24, 2011

However, on Dec. 7, 2013 Nathaniel Grow of Sports Law Blog broke the news that MLB rejected the A’s request in June. Just like that, it appeared that owner Lew Wolff’s attempt to relocate the franchise to the South Bay was, at best, barely on life support.

BREAKING: MLB formally rejected Oakland A’s proposed move to San Jose in mid-June: http://t.co/bS4qBDISXw

— Nathaniel Grow (@NathanielGrow) December 7, 2013

Quite a dramatic turnaround from one December to another. One moment it looked like Wolff’s wildest dreams were coming true and the next he’s watching his bid for San Jose get pushed to the brink.

It’s definitely been an entertaining month for A’s ballpark news with Sports Law Blog’s scoop with part of San Jose’s lawsuit against MLB advancing, a proposal for ballpark at Howard Terminal emerging, Wolff’s tepid expression of interest in Coliseum City and rumors of a potential new ownership group making the rounds.

By the way, a quick note to some of the pro-Oakland crowd: Wolff. Won’t. Sell, but you already should have known that because he’s said it plenty of times before.

One of the many things Wolff gets bashed for in the Twitterverse is the perception that he doesn’t have a Plan B if San Jose doesn’t pan out. I’ve seen some people on Twitter make the argument that he should basically give up on the South Bay and start working with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan to advance plans for Howard Terminal and/or Coliseum City. The argument has also been made that Wolff should sell the team to the group of rich guys who are allegedly interested in buying the club and building a stadium in Oakland.

The idea of Wolff making those moves is wonderful and quite heartwarming in theory, but why in the world would he do any of that?

OF COURSE WOLFF’S NOT SELLING

The A's have been chasing a new ballpark for years and all they have to show for it are a handful of really pretty artists' renderings.

The A’s have been chasing a new ballpark for years and all they have to show for it are a handful of really pretty artists’ renderings.

After spending all these years trying to strike it rich with a new ballpark somewhere in the Bay Area Wolff isn’t going to sell the franchise now or anytime soon. Why would he let someone else enjoy all the fortune and glory if and when a new stadium is finally built?

As long as Wolff owns the team he’ll make a solid profit thanks to revenue sharing and the club’s low payroll. With MLB’s income skyrocketing the value of the A’s will continue to rise even if they’re stuck in the aging Coliseum for the rest of the decade.

Why sell now for a tidy sum of cash when holding onto the team could very well assure Wolff and co-owner John Fisher and their families decades of far greater wealth? Selling the A’s in the near future just doesn’t make any sense and it’s baffling that some fans continue to beat that drum.

With the Howard Terminal and Coliseum City proposals in their infancy, it makes sense for Wolff to just sit tight and tread waste water at the Coliseum as long as it takes for the drama in San Jose to slowly play out.

WOLFF’S NO-EFFORT PLAN B

As for Wolff working up a Plan B, why should the man waste any time, energy or money on that? After arguing for years that San Jose is the team’s No. 1 option for a new stadium he might as well stick to his guns until MLB forces him to let it drop.

Wolff’s been involved with the A’s pursuit of a new venue since before he bought the team in 2005. It’s not like there was any significant momentum with Oakland’s politicians to get anything done for the A’s before Wolff decided to make a formal bid for San Jose. If you’re looking for a new home for the A’s and Oakland isn’t seriously playing ball, why not go for the gold and take a shot at what appears to be a more lucrative market in the South Bay?

Part of the “evil” genius of Wolff (if you’re into throwing the “evil” label around in association with him) is the fact that Plan B is gradually working itself out on its own.

Can Oakland Mayor Jean Quan help keep the A's in town?

Can Oakland Mayor Jean Quan help keep the A’s in town?

The long and laborious process of pursuing a move to San Jose has created time for an Oakland mayor to finally show a noteworthy level of interest in keeping the A’s in town. The glacially slow progressing threat of a move has opened the door for the Howard Terminal plan to develop. It’s also created the opportunity for Quan and Company to propose stadiums on the current site of the Coliseum; which just happens to be what Wolff wanted years ago when no one seemed to embrace his idea.

You want a Plan B? There it is. Without lifting a finger, Wolff has a couple of interesting options for a new ballpark in Oakland in the early stages of development. Why should Wolff invest any effort in developing a Plan B when he can just threaten to move to San Jose and have other people do all the work for him? Brilliant!

Even though Wolff’s hopes of moving the A’s to San Jose appears to be fading fast, that part of the puzzle is moving forward without any effort from the team’s widely-reviled owner. Wolff is just as frustrated as anyone that MLB is taking so long to make a final decision, but his hands are tied since owners can’t sue the league. Guess who’s suing the league and forcing the issue for him? San Jose.

All Wolff has to do is sit back, relax and see what happens first. Will San Jose beat MLB in court or will Oakland finally come around and deliver a solid, fully-formed plan for a new ballpark that’ll set his family up for decades of riches?

Both scenarios are probably longshots since Wolff’s clearly in no rush and he has the luxury of letting it all play out while he sits on the sidelines. The plans for Howard Terminal and Coliseum City aren’t quite ready for prime time yet. There is ample opportunity to let MLB and San Jose duke it out in court for a while and see who comes out a winner.

LEW WOLFF: SLY LIKE A FOX

By the time the A's quest for a new ballpark finally comes to an end, will Wolff come out looking like a surprising mastermind like Keyser Soze in "The Usual Suspects"?

By the time the A’s quest for a new ballpark finally comes to an end, will Wolff come out looking like a surprising mastermind like Keyser Soze in “The Usual Suspects”?

Maybe the sneaky brilliance of Wolff is in playing the long game and betting that if Oakland ever got its act together to keep the A’s it would take forever and he might as well use the downtime to start the laborious process of formally pursuing a move to San Jose.

Possibly there isn’t any “evil” genius or sneaky brilliance to the way this is playing out. Maybe Wolff’s just a tone-deaf owner stubbornly chasing a dream that will never be realized in San Jose while blowing a golden opportunity to capitalize on the perceived momentum building to keep the A’s in Oakland.

I’ll admit that the latter often appears far more likely than the former. For the sake of amusement I want to give Wolff the benefit of the doubt and entertain the crazy idea that he’s slowly and masterfully guiding San Jose and Oakland into a position where he ultimately gets exactly what he wants with minimal effort on his part.

Maybe Wolff’s a little like Keyser Soze from “The Usual Suspects” (minus that whole evil criminal thing) where he spends most of his time looking like an unimpressive bit player in this drama until everyone suddenly finds out in the end that he’s actually a fiendishly clever mastermind who’s been imperceptibly nudging everyone into doing all the dirty work so he can achieve his ultimate goal.

If Wolff gets lucky the A’s will eventually land in San Jose. The city is his top choice and possibly the spot where the team can reap the biggest profits. Wolff’s potential second prize is his formal pursuit of San Jose waking up East Bay politicians and they finally come around to his earlier preference to build on the Coliseum property. Maybe seriously courting the South Bay helps Wolff land an especially profitable deal with Oakland/Alameda County and he finds the pot of gold he’s been looking for all along.

Any chance MLB Commissioner Bud Selig makes a stand one way or another in the A's quest for a new ballpark in the Bay Area?

Any chance MLB Commissioner Bud Selig makes a stand one way or the other in the A’s quest for a new ballpark in the Bay Area?

And if all that fails Wolff will just continue to collect those handsome revenue sharing checks and post a tidy profit by keeping the A’s payroll in the bottom third of the league. By then it may be the end of the decade, the value of the franchise will be higher than ever, and a city like Montreal might be ready to handle the relocation of a MLB team. At that point it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine MLB finally getting frustrated enough with the A’s seemingly endless plight in Oakland to line up a deep-pocketed investor to cash Wolff out with an offer he can’t refuse and move the team out of California.

Until then Wolff might as well keep waiting out his dogged quest for San Jose because he has absolutely nothing to lose. Wolff’s rich and he wants to leverage his stake in the A’s to get a whole lot richer by wrangling a new stadium out of San Jose or Oakland. Let’s face it. That’s what owners do.

One way or another, Wolff’s going to hit the jackpot when this is all said and done. You can be sure he’s going to do it on his terms regardless of how frustrating it is to fans everywhere, including this writer.

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Jason Leary
About the Author

Jason Leary is a lifelong, die-hard A's fan and busy father of two who blogs about baseball in those rare moments when he isn't chasing his kids around. Follow and interact with Jason on Twitter @JasonALeary or check out his blog at junkball.wordpress.com.







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