A's to San Jose? UCLA Problems; Joe Lacob; Roger Goodell/NFL Problems; Thursday Examiner Column
EARLIER THIS WEEK, Bill Madden’s baseball column in New York said that baseball commissioner Bud Selig and MLB owners had decided not to lift the Giants territorial rights to San Jose.
Selig denied it, of course. He would deny that the sun were coming up in the morning if it suited his interests. Madden has covered baseball (first, the Yankees) since 1979 and written a column since 1987. He has great contacts, and I’m quite sure his column had accurate information.
Meanwhile, the A’s public relations department, without question under orders from managing general partner Lew Wolff, issued a news release today claiming that the only reason the Giants had the right to the San Jose/Santa Clara territory was that, when it was an open territory, A’s owner Walter Haas had given Bob Lurie permission to build a park there. In the early ‘90s. Lurie tried twice, once in Santa Clara (in the area where the 49ers now plan a stadium) and once in San Jose. Both efforts were rejected by voters.
Haas and Lurie were good friends, members of the Lake Merced golf club in San Francisco, and it’s true that Haas told Lurie he wouldn’t stand in his way.
But, that is not what this dispute is about. When Lurie sold the Giants in late 1992 to the current ownership, MLB attached a condition that, within 10 years, the Giants had to have a new ball park. In return, the Giants got an assurance that they would have territorial rights on the peninsula and in the San Jose/Santa Clara area.
The Giants lived up to their end of the bargain, privately financing a beautiful park in China Basin. Now, they expect MLB to hold up its end, which is hardly unreasonable – except to Wolff, who has always thought the fact that he and Selig were college fraternity buddies would enable him to persuade Selig to bend the rules.
It hasn’t worked, for a variety of reasons. One is that, if the Giants territorial rights were lifted, the Yankees and Mets fear that the Tampa Bay Rays would move to New Jersey. Another is the possibility of a law suit by the Giants, who have been preparing for that for some time; former managing general partner Willliam Neukom is a past president of the American Bar Association. The MLB constitution forbids teams from suing each other, but that wouldn’t stop the Giants and that provision probably wouldn’t hold up in court, either.
For National League teams, it wouldn’t make sense for them to vote to end the Giants territorial rights because they’d face the very real possibility that their share of the gate for games in San Francisco would be reduced – and nine of the current National League teams would have to vote for the change.
In addition, Selig has bigger problems on his plate. Frank McCourt, the Dodgers’ beloved owner (that’s a joke for those who are humor-impaired) is trying to hold on to possession of the parking lots at Dodger Stadium in any sale of the club, which won’t fly. The Mets are mired in a financial mess because the ownership got caught in the Bernie Madoff disaster.
New York and Los Angeles are the two biggest markets in the country. Do you really think Selig is going to put them on the backburner while deciding whether the A’s should stay in Oakland or move to San Jose?
What really bothers me in this scenario is Wolff’s deceit. From the start, his plan has been to move the team to San Jose, where he could tap into the Silicon Valley people – which is exactly why the Giants have fought that, of course.
He put out one plan to build a new park in Oakland but established conditions he knew couldn’t be met. One was that the city help him obtain the land at below market value from business owners across 66th Avenue from the current Coliseum. Another was that BART put in another station just a few hundred yards from the current one serving the Coliseum.
When those conditions weren’t met – surprise! – he announced he was through with Oakland. There was another site proposed by Ignacio de la Fuente which would have worked well, close to Jack London Square, next to the freeway and close to a BART stop. The city owned the land, which would have been donated for the park. Wolff wasn’t interested. It wasn’t in San Jose.
Very quickly, he decided on a park in Fremont and produced a detailed plan. I saw the plan. It was clearly one that had been designed for San Jose. It did not fit the needs of either Fremont, where two potential sites were rejected, or Oakland.
Since then, Wolff has done everything he could to drive down interest. He closed off the upper deck (the part just above the press box has since been reopened) which reduced the capacity of the park to about 36,000, eliminating the possibilityof those 50,000-plus crowds the A’s used to draw for the Yankees and Red Sox. Two years in a row, he sent out media e-mails saying he had no interest in Oakland. He eliminated FanFest, until Comcast brought it back and paid for it this year. He held down the A’s payroll and didn’t put money into the farm system, so general manager Billy Beane had to trade off his best pitchers in the last offseason to get minor league prospects. When the Giants were in their final years at Candlestick, the ownership took financial losses to make improvement in the park and build a winning team. In contrast, Wolff and money man John Fisher haven’t put a dime into the Coliseum and, except for last season, Wolff has kept the payroll so low, he and Fisher have made money because clubs with higher revenue, including the Giants, have had to contribute money to the A’s.
So, now he should be rewarded by being allowed to move the A’s to San Jose? You tell me.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED had a story two weeks ago about the problems in the UCLA basketball program with the me-first players, suggesting it might cost Ben Howland his job. It probably will but, whatever the problems are in Westwood, they are hardly unique.
Most of the problem stems from the NBA’s rule that players can’t be drafted until they’re 19. It was a well-meaning rule, because the NBA has become a much younger and undisciplined league, but it has had unintended consequences. Agents sign up players in high school – contrary to NCAA regulations, of course, but the agents are not under their control – and then spot them on teams around the country. Those players only stay for one year and then they’re off to the NBA. That makes it difficult to build a program and especially difficult to achieve individual and team discipline.
A better way would be for the NBA to establish the same kind of rule that baseball has: Players can enter the draft out of high school but if they go to a four-year college, they can’t leave until after their third year.
The NBA would get younger again, of course, because players figure they might as well start getting the big money as early as possible. But, let’s get real here: How much more undisciplined could NBA play be?
It isn’t just the players, either. Some of the owners are out of control, too. We have one in the Bay Area, Joe Lacob, who thinks it’s all about him. He came in making all kinds of public announcements about how he was going to “change the culture.” Funny, the Warriors look as lost as ever, certainly not good enough to make the playoffs but not bad enough to save their first round pick by getting no higher than No. 7 in the lottery.
The more things change….
THE BIG fear of the NFL: Lawsuits resulting from concussion damage. That’s why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell takes this story about defensive coordinator Gregg Williams offering “bounties” to players who knock stars out of the game.
Frankly, I don’t know how much credence to give this story. I haven’t heard of any players who have suffered because of this socalled policy. It’s always been the goal of defensive players to flatten quarterbacks, the players who most contribute to a team’s offense, but I’ve never heard before of this kind of pattern. There have also been players that were called “dirty” for their tricks – reportedly, the NFL had to add an extra official to watch Monty Stickles when he was a tight end for the Niners – but that was their style of play, not a way of getting a financial reward.
But, the concussions are very worrisome, and, even though the NFL has no jurisdiction over high school players, it’s really worrisome that teenagers are showing brain damage.
This problem won’t go away, and it’s directly tied to steroids. It’s amusing to me that so many of my colleagues are upset by steroids in baseball, where they are not a direct problem for the health of players, and ignore the increasing use of steroids in football.
Twenty years ago, an offensive lineman who weighed more than 300 pounds was certain to be a fat slob, with his stomach overlapping his belt considerably; the Dallas Cowboys of the early ‘90s had several of those. Now, linemen, offensive and defensive, are commonly over 300 pounds, but they’re in great shape, all muscle, very little fat. They don’t get that way by eating Wheaties.
Football, as former coach Duffy Daugherty famously declared, is a collision sport, and those collisions are causing more damage because they’re between bigger, faster athletes. Equipment, too, causes injuries, and football at all levels is reaching a crisis stage.
I don’t have an answer for this. Unfortunately, I don’t think Goodell does, either.
SPRING TRAINING: One of the interesting story lines out of the A’s camp has been the bonding of Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez.
In a way, it reminds me of how the A’s signed Reggie Jackson at the end of his career to be a mentor for Jose Canseco as a rookie. As it turned out, they had much in common, including a common mantra “It’s all about me.” No matter what subject I ever broached with Reggie, he turned it around to him. “Jose is just like me…” was the way he started every question about Canseco. Of course, it didn’t take long before Jose was in the same mode. I have to say, though, that they are two of the most delightful athletes I’ve dealt with over the years.
Ramirez is probably in the same class (I have had no direct dealings with him) but the fact that he’s highly regarded in the Spanish-speaking part of the hemisphere helps him to work with Cespedes. As a scout mentioned last week, it’s more difficult for a Cuban player than one from the Dominican Republic or South America because he can’t go home. Cespedes, though, has relocated his family to the Dominican, which should help him cope.
I’m anxious to see him when the A’s come home; I haven’t been to spring training since 1999; the next year, the Hearst editors took over The Chronicle and they didn’t want me to go anywhere except out the door.
I have no idea how the Ramirez experiment will work for the A’s, but I do know that he’s an exciting hitter, especially good in the clutch. Even missing the first 50 games, he could help the A’s.
NOTE: I’ll be writing for the Thursday Examiner on Jerry Rice’s comments on the 49ers picking up Peyton Manning. No Examiner column on Friday.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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