A's Won't Change
New managing partner Lew Wolff will probably run the club much as Steve Schott has. Wolff has said he regards the A’s as the best-run franchise in baseball, and Schott will remain with a small piece of the team.
That will not please those A’s fans who think Schott and Ken Hofmann should have spent more money to keep the stars who have either left through free agency or been traded – Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder – but it reflects the reality of major league baseball.
A’s fans got spoiled in the Walter Haas era, when Haas spent freely to keep his star-laden team together, as it won three straight American League pennants, 1988-90, though only one World Series. The A’s payroll was the highest in baseball.
Haas was a philanthropist, and the A’s were his Oakland charity. He took big losses annually, though he and his family got big capital gains benefits when he sold the club for roughly seven times what he had paid for it.
Times have changed drastically in baseball. That payroll mentioned above as the highest in baseball was $40 million. The current A’s payroll may be half again as much – but it will be below the half-way point in baseball!
When Schott and Hofmann bought the club in 1995, then general manager Sandy Alderson told Schott he should dump the big-salaried players who were past their prime and put his money into the minor league system. Schott took a terrible beating in the media for doing that, but it was obviously the right move.
Schott also took a beating when he made it plain that he wanted to balance the A’s budget. Many writers feel it is the owner’s obligation to just spend whatever it takes, even if that means oceans of red ink, but that disregards reality.
In almost every case – the Angels’ owner, Artie Morento, is probably the only current exception – owners spend in relation to their revenue. George Steinbrenner has by far the largest payroll in baseball because of the revenues he gets from the Yankees cable-TV network. Even paying great amounts in revenue-sharing and luxury tax hits, Steinbrenner makes money.
The A’s don’t have that kind of situation. Their local radio-TV revenues are relatively low. They share the Fox SBA revenues, which are substantially less than they are for those teams with their own cable networks, with the Giants, whose revenues are higher because their radio (KNBR) rights are more valuable. And, of course, the Giants ticket prices are much higher than the A’s.
ANOTHER ELEMENT that won’t change: The A’s will not be moved to San Jose.
Going back 10 years, there has been speculation that the A’s would go to San Jose. When Wolff first bought into the A’s, speculation increased, because he had been pre-eminent in the development of the downtown business district of San Jose and still has part ownership of the Fairmont Hotel there.
But Wolff now lives in Los Angeles, and he has publicly said that he does not plan to move the A’s to San Jose.
Originally, San Jose was considered “open” territory. After a bid to build a Giants park failed in 1989, then Giants owner Bob Lurie tried a couple of times to get a park built in the San Jose area, once in the city, once in Santa Clara County. Both attempts failed.
Because Haas said he would not try to block Lurie’s attempts in the south, many thought that was the precedent when the current Giants ownership said they would not give permission for the A’s to build a park in the San Jose area.
Not so. When the Giants ownership group bought the club in 1993, to prevent the proposed sale of the club to Tampa Bay businessmen, they got a clause in their contract with Major League Baseball that provided that no other major league club could be located in San Francisco, San Mateo or Santa Clara counties. They were aware of history: Because Giants owner Horace Stoneham did not insist on exclusivity in the market when he moved his team from New York to San Francisco in 1958, Charlie Finley was able to move the A’s into Oakland 10 years later, splitting the market.
After the 1993 purchase, the San Jose area, and specifically Silicon Valley, became even more important to the Giants owners. Money from that area flowed into the building of the park, in sponsorships, in “charter seats” sales, in regular season tickets. Even with that money, the Giants pay $20 million debt service each year. It’s unreasonable to think they would yield that Silicon Valley money.
Some writers have speculated that owners could override that provision with a 75 per cent vote, but that presumes it would come to a vote. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig sets the agenda, and there’s no way Selig would allow this to come to an owners vote.
IN A SENSE, the A’s are always swimming uphill, the second team in the smallest two-team market in baseball.
Yet, that’s what makes them so appealing to me, the story of the underdog which succeeds against teams which are better financed, but not better run.
Each year, the A’s have to re-invent themselves with younger players, and that’s especially true this year, after the Hudson-Mulder trades. They’re also in the best division in baseball, which makes it tougher. But each year, they’re an exciting, battling team, and I expect no less this year. New ownership won’t change a thing.
NOTE TO READERS: For those of you in the area, I will be a guest on “The Last Honest Sports Show” on Channel 44 Saturday night. The times for airing the show sometimes shift, so please check the Saturday TV listings.
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