Jayson Stark, the veteran ESPN sportswriter who actually reports from inside MLB’s collective colon, wrote on Friday that “one baseball official” reports that an Oakland A’s move to San Jose is most likely “never going to happen,” thanks to what “one sports attorney” calls “a hell of a case” that the San Francisco Giants have on territorial rights. As a result, says Stark, “baseball people” say that A’s owner Lew Wolff will ultimately have to settle for a new under-40,000-seat stadium in Oakland.
Which is certainly possible, and Oakland has plenty of stadium site proposals to choose from. But then you still have the problem of who’s going to pay for it. (Wolff has been hoping to finance a San Jose stadium with the proceeds from entering the more lucrative South Bay market, but obviously moving from one part of Oakland to another doesn’t have the same benefit.)
Newballpark.org, meanwhile, always willing to follow speculation to its logical conclusion, notes that Wolff would still have “one trump card” to play:
Wolff could refuse to negotiate a Coliseum lease extension.
Fitting that this last bit of “inaction” could finally force action. It worked for the Minnesota Vikings. It most certainly won’t get the kind of results Zygi Wilf got (a publicly financed stadium), but it would at least force the powers that be to act. It would absolutely burn the last bridge Wolff had with Oakland and would be the worst PR move ever on top of many other missteps, but as we’ve seen in the Vikings’ case, it’s practically standard operating procedure for owners looking to get new stadia. Oakland pols have bragged that the A’s have nowhere to play besides the Coliseum. Do they really want to make that bluff?
Wolff’s refusal would create a nightmare for MLB. MLB could proceed one of two ways, either A) rule once and for all on the T-rights matter and let the franchise move forward, or B) try to assume control of the A’s by alleging that Wolff was not acting as a proper caretaker of the franchise in the market.
Option B would be difficult and expensive, notes Newballpark.org editor Marine Layer, since Wolff’s group would still have plenty of money — just no place to play after 2013. And Option A is what MLB commissioner Bud Selig is trying to avoid at all costs, since he’s still hoping that somehow the A’s and Giants owners will work something out — though you have to wonder whether if Wolff genuinely uses the nuclear option, Selig would be pissed enough to just rule in favor of the Giants and tell his old frat buddy to lump it.
All in all, it doesn’t seem a threat that Wolff is very likely to carry out: Even the Florida Marlins owners, who never met a threat they didn’t like, didn’t get too serious about their warnings that they’d be homeless if they didn’t get a new stadium by the time their lease wound up. They did hint it to the media a fair bit, though, so don’t be surprised if you hear Wolff muttering darkly about how “we don’t know where we’ll be after 2013” — or at least, the sports media doing his muttering for him.