A's to San Jose? No Way; March Madness; Warriors Future
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 18, 2009

OAKLAND A’S owner Lew Wolff, normally a very sensible man, went a little crazy last week, sending out an e-mail that basically told Oakland fans, “As soon as I can build a park somewhere else, I’m out of here.”

Well, that’s certainly an unique marketing strategy.

His e-mail, in response to a plea by Oakland politicians to MLB to take another look at Oakland for an A’s park, was especially jarring because the news has been mostly positive for the A’s in the offseason. They’ve traded for Matt Holliday and signed Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra as free agents. They’ve signed on with a 50,000-watt radio station, so their game broadcasts can actually be heard by A’s fans.

And then, Wolff gave the back of his hand to Oakland.

Wolff is frustrated because he knows he can’t build a park in San Jose, which clearly has been his desire from the start. He tried to get in a side door, with his ridiculous plan to build in Fremont, switching sites but still getting great opposition from residents. It was probably a relief to him when he could blame the economy for dropping the plan.

Since then, San Jose’s mayor has announced his city has a site for a park – and the city has already done an environmental impact report (EIR). That sent San Jose bloggers into a frenzy. Two ill-informed Chronicle sports columnists -–yes, I realize I’m being redundant – assured readers that baseball commissioner Bud Selig could do away with the Giants’ territorial rights in Santa Clara county (also San Francisco and San Mateo counties) any time he wished.

If it were that easy, Selig would have done it long ago, and there would be an A’s park being built right now. But it won’t happen because of serious roadblocks. For instance:

--To change that provision in the Giants’ contract would require a ¾ vote of the owners, which means 23 of the 30 owners. Assuming the 14 American League owners would vote for it, that would require nine of the Giants’ 15 National League partners voting for the change, knowing they’d get less money from their share of the gate in San Francisco. Can you see that happening? I can’t.

--Two San Francisco politicians, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are in positions of power in a Democratic administration. Feinstein has been particularly eager to get involved in sports propositions, as she has been in the fight to build a 49ers stadium in San Francisco, and she surely would get involved if baseball owners even considered this.

--If the owners ever did vote to eliminate the Giants’ territorial rights, the Giants would sue them for damages. Have I mentioned that William Neukom was president of the American Bar Association in the year before he succeeded Peter Magowan as managing general partner of the Giants? If the Giants won that suit, as they probably would, team owners would have to pay millions in damages.

Selig’s M.O. as commissioner has been to forge a strong majority before he ever brings an issue before the owners. Perhaps now you can see why he hasn’t done that with this issue.

Privately and publicly, the Giants have said they won’t accept a buyout of their territorial rights, and Neukom has reaffirmed that position. One of the Chronicle columnists said the Giants should just give up their rights, in a gesture of fellowship with the A’s!
Must be strange living in that alternate universe. Money from the Silicon Valley, whether it was in the form of sponsorship or with purchase of “charter seats” or luxury suites, was very important in the building of AT&T Park. This fan base is still very important to the franchise, which has a debt service of $20 million each year.

Wolff said in his e-mail that he wants to keep the team in northern California, but if he’s ruled out Oakland and can’t go to San Jose, that leaves only one other city, Sacramento. But MLB has never considered Sacramento a viable site because of its lack of corporate structure and its low rating as a television market. Sacramento is a good sports town – but fans are accustomed to paying minor league prices for baseball. Wolff has implied that he could move the franchise elsewhere, but that’s an empty threat. There are no good sites available elsewhere.

Wolff got frustrated in his dealings with Oakland politicians, which I can certainly understand. I’ve been living in the city for 40 years and have had numerous problems with them, personally and professionally, but I think he gave up too soon. He wanted the city to condemn property on his preferred site just north of 66th Avenue, across from the current Coliseum. When they didn’t, he switched his focus to Fremont, keeping his dream alive of sneaking into the San Jose market.

This is the second time Oakland has taken a blow to its reputation for supporting a team because of its owner. In the ‘70s, they didn’t draw, despite winning three straight World Series, because owner Charlie Finley promoted himself and not the team. When the Haas family took over the A’s, attendance zoomed, to what was then a Bay Area record of more than 2.9 million in 1990.

Lately, the A’s have acted almost as if they’re trying to depress attendance, to justify a move. They made a very unpopular move to close off the third deck and have yet to change that policy. Supposedly, it was to promote season ticket sales by creating a relative scarcity of tickets, but all it’s done is to anger their fans – and decrease the gate for the big attractions like the Yankees, Red Sox and Giants. Last year, they promoted the mythical Cisco Field incessantly on their game broadcasts. (Those of you who bought tickets in advance can put them with your Bears Stearn stock certificates.) They put a team of strangers out on the field; this was one time when the cry “can’t tell the players without a program” was REALLY true.

Meanwhile, the A’s have been making a profit by a combination of low payroll and revenue-sharing money from teams which draw better. The market is down now, but when the economy rebounds, Wolff and his partner, John Fisher, could sell at a profit.

Wolff should drop his petulant act and take another look at Oakland. And don’t send out any more e-mails!

TOURNAMENT MISTAKE: The biggest mistake the NCAA selection committee makes is the automatic inclusion of the winner of a conference tournament winner in the 65-team field. There’s an example close to home this year: USC won the Pac-10 tournament, so it got a bid, shutting out more deserving schools like St. Mary’s.

The top four teams in the Pac-10 – Washington, UCLA, Cal and Arizona State – had no incentive to win the conference tournament because their spots in the NCAA tournament were already assured. In fact, there was a reverse incentive for them to lose because they’d be more rested for the tournament that counts. USC had a strong incentive because it was the only way the Trojans could be a part of March Madness.

Unfortunately, it’s totally unrealistic to think this procedure will change. The conference tournaments are big money-makers, and in sports, college or pro, it’s all about money these days.

WARRIORS CHANGES: The one bit of good news in the otherwise dismal season is that coach Don Nelson is using what’s left of the season to prepare for the next one. Monta Ellis appears set at point guard – if Bobby Rowell doesn’t terminate his contract in a fit of pique – and rookie Anthony Randolph is starting to display signs of his tremendous upside. Moving Stephen Jackson back to guard makes the Warriors bigger and, presumably, stronger defensively. Of course, it would be impossible for any change to weaken them defensively.


MARCH MADNESS is here and you can get tournament tickets and baseball tickets, spring training or regular season on TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! . Tickets are also available for NBA and college basketball games, and for top entertainment events. Just click on the links below and everything will come up.

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