MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said a bunch of stuff about the A’s future in Oakland at the All-Star Game last night, and sounded more like a realtor trying to talk up the city as an investment property than a sports league commissioner trying to play hardball on a stadium demand:
“I am committed to Oakland as a major league site,” he told the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday. “I think that if we were to leave Oakland, I think 10 years from now we would be more likely than not looking backwards saying we made a mistake.”…
“I think that Oakland is more likely than not to be a better market five years from now than it is today,” Manfred said. “So I certainly have not given up on Oakland.”
That’s all probably true, especially since Oakland is increasingly looking like the next Brooklyn, at least in terms of getting spillover gentrification from the super-wealthy district one bridge away. It’s a terrible way to create leverage, though — any hardball negotiating can now be met with “Yeah, well, your commissioner said you’re not leaving regardless” — and is only likely to stiffen Oakland officials’ already stiff resolve not to offer A’s owner Lew Wolff any public money to help with construction or land acquisition or anything else he might ask for.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Wolff isn’t looking for any of that — he seems to be happy if he can just get the rights to build a stadium on the Coliseum site instead of the Raiders — and that Manfred knows it, which is why he’s saying such nice things at a time when it’s more traditional to talk about how a city is a tough market, and really needs up to step up to the plate, etc. Either that, or it’s just further evidence that Manfred is really bad at this whole blackmail thing.
So this is weird: Last Saturday, according to a report on SBNation’s Oakland Raiders blog, sports agent Leigh Steinberg wrote on Forbes’ we’ll-let-just-about-anyone-post-here-for-free site that Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was close to announcing a deal for new stadiums for the Raiders and A’s:
The A’s have threatened to go to San Jose, the Warriors to San Francisco, and the Raiders to multiple locals. This would have a devastating impact on the morale and economic climate of Oakland. Now, there appears to be an opening, under the leadership of Mayor Libby Schaaf, to innovatively revitalize Oakland and solve the needs of all three teams. Mayor Schaaf is expected to make a dramatic announcement regarding the Raiders situation early next week.
That’s not what it says now if you go to the actual Forbes site, though, where that last sentence about the “dramatic announcement” has been deleted.
No explanation or acknowledgment of the change appears on either Forbes or SBNation, not even in comments (yes, I read through an SBNation comments section, this is what I do for you folks), so no way to tell whether somebody at Schaaf’s office called up Steinberg (or Forbes, if they bother editing their unpaid contributors) to say “knock that off” or if he just thought better of alleging things that weren’t going to happen. There are still two days left in the week, so I suppose Schaaf might yet surprise us all with news that Mark Davis has found $500 million under the sofa cushions and Lew Wolff has agreed to build a stadium elsewhere than the Coliseum site. I wouldn’t be holding your breath, though.
When you’re a major league sports commissioner, saying pretty much anything about anything is going to make headlines. So when MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said this yesterday on the Oakland A’s stadium situation:
“The differentiation between the Coliseum site and a site that’s maybe downtown, that’s a local issue. That’s for the A’s to sort out. I really do feel that the degree of influence that we should exercise in the process should be related to telling the club that we’d like them to stay in the market they are.”
…it made headlines.
Reading between the lines a bit, this could either be Manfred sending a “we’ve had enough of this whole A’s mess, Lew Wolff is on his own” message, or more likely an indication that Wolff still hasn’t decided for sure what site he wants to push for — something he hinted at last week — so MLB will take his lead. Especially since last year, when Wolff was pushing for a new lease on the Oakland Coliseum site, Manfred said MLB would go along with the A’s contention that “the Coliseum site is the best site for a baseball stadium in Oakland.” Sports commissioners seldom let themselves forget these days who signs their checks.
Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff responded late Friday to Raiders owner Mark Davis calling his team the “elephant in the room” (oh, I see what he did there) and saying Wolff had “tied our hands behind our back” with his ten-year lease on the Oakland Coliseum:
“The A’s signed a 10-year lease at the Coliseum because we are committed to Oakland. Mr. Davis has said he is fully committed to do a new football stadium in Oakland and there is nothing in our lease that precludes Mr. Davis and the Raiders from building on the Coliseum site. As we stated yesterday, the A’s are aggressively working with the city to evaluate venue sites in Oakland. Our efforts are fully focused on Oakland. Although the Coliseum remains the main focus of our venue efforts, we are also evaluating potential sites throughout Oakland. We are confident our efforts will continue to move forward and we will share our progress throughout the process.”
Nothing that precludes the Raiders from building a stadium except that both team owners really want development rights to the whole Coliseum site. So we’re back to being treated to “get offa my lawn” nastygram wars, which should be resolved either the minute Davis finds some other city to give him the stadium money that he’s struck out on getting from Oakland, or never, somewhere in there. Or maybe Davis and Wolff will figure out a way for them both to share the Coliseum space, and Davis will find a way to pay for a new stadium with his own money, and … yeah, I can’t really see that happening either. The best bet for both teams staying in Oakland long-term might be if Wolff picks another site, and Davis settles for a remodeled Coliseum at a more affordable price or something after the entire rest of America wakes up and decides it doesn’t want to build him a football stadium. What Vegas odds do you think I could get on that one?
The city of Oakland has sent A’s owner Lew Wolff a 21-page report outlining ten possible alternative locations for a new stadium, only five of which it considers definitely “feasible”:
- A USPS facility in West Oakland.
- Howard Terminal on the Oakland waterfront.
- Brooklyn Basin on the Oakland watefront.
- The current site of Laney College’s stadium and playing fields.
- A site currently occupied by Peralta College administration offices and an adjacent lumberyard.
None of these sites are without their problems — in fact, most of them have been at least considered before — but it does indicate that city officials are trying to find a possible baseball stadium site in case the existing Oakland Coliseum site ends up getting used for a Raiders football stadium (or, possibly, for some non-sports development). It’s not a bad thing as due diligence goes, though as usual the most important hurdle isn’t figuring out where to put a stadium, but figuring out how to pay for one.
MLB Rob Manfred gave one of his patented mumble-mouthed comments about the Oakland A’s stadium situation yesterday:
I want the A’s to stay in Oakland. It’s a very fundamental policy of baseball. We favor franchise stability. I think it is possible to get a stadium done in Oakland, and that remains my preference.
That could be a statement of commitment to building a stadium in Oakland, or it could be a veiled threat (he said Oakland is his “preference,” so that implies a Plan B, right, people?), or more likely, it could be a way of just ducking a question asked by the L.A. Times’ Bill Shaikin.
The question was actually about whether MLB would consider moving the team to San Jose now that that city’s lawsuit has crashed and burned, but there’s never been any evidence that MLB was going to force the San Francisco Giants owners to name a price for allowing the A’s to go to San Jose (deemed Giants territory, and no, I really don’t want to get into the historical reasons why, thanks), and so, yeah, no surprise here. There will likely be stronger (if not necessarily clearer) words from Manfred eventually, but if so they’ll be prompted by whatever A’s owner Lew Wolff decided to push for, not what a newspaper writer decides should be news.
Judging from some of the reader comments back when I reported on San Jose’s antitrust lawsuit over not allowing the Oakland A’s to move there getting rejected by an appeals court last January, some people were still holding out hope that the Supreme Court would tell MLB where to stick its territorial rights rules. Y’all can stop hoping now:
The Supreme Court of the United States returned from its summer recess to grant appeals on the approximately 2,000 petitions submitted to it over the break, but took no action today on City of San Jose vs. Major League Baseball, a strong indicator that it will allow the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to stand.
The Supreme Court could still try to sneak the San Jose case in with a late acceptance, or ask the Solicitor General for an opinion on whether to hear the case, but neither of those is very likely. MLB’s antitrust exemption may be one of the Supreme Court’s stupidest rulings ever, but like the ruling that corporations are people, at this point it’s so well established that it’s going to take something far more cataclysmic than the fate of the A’s to get the courts to even think about overturning it.
Meanwhile, A’s owner Lew Wolff publicly gave up on San Jose months ago, so this isn’t likely to change his leverage much in seeking a new stadium in Oakland. Not that we’ve heard much about that lately, but presumably he’s just hoping that Mark Davis takes the Raiders to Southern California and gets out of his way in the battle for Oakland Coliseum land. Hey, maybe he’ll bring the team with him the next time he goes to get his hair cut.
So that San Jose Mercury News report that Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff said MLB would help him fund a new stadium? Now the San Francisco Chronicle says Wolff says it’s not so:
Just this week, Wolff let it be known that new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was fully behind the A’s effort. However, he dismissed reports that MLB would kick in some money to get it done in Oakland.
“Dismissed reports”? But the reports came from you, according to the Merc News? Why … oh, never mind.
Meanwhile, Wolff is continuing to explore parts of the Oakland Coliseum site where a new stadium could be built while the A’s play in the old one. As for the Raiders, their execs continue to talk with the city of Oakland and Alameda County, though county officials would rather just the city buy them out of the Coliseum entirely so they don’t have to deal with it. The general assumption seems to be that the A’s are closer to a deal than the Raiders are, but that could just be social media getting ahead of itself; anyway, it’s always better to wait until we see actual funding plans, not just site preferences, before declaring anything set in even wet concrete.
The San Jose Mercury News dropped a weird little bombshell into its report on the Oakland A’s trade deadline moves:
A’s owner [Lew Wolff] said Major League Baseball would likely kick in some money to help the A’s get a stadium done at the Oakland site, public money not being available.
Really? That’s not something MLB has done for any other team — aside from allowing teams to deduct stadium costs from income for purposes of revenue-sharing, which has been standard operating procedure for a while now. But if MLB actually gives in and throws additional cash the A’s way, that would be a huge departure for a league that so far has depended on the kindness of taxpayers for new construction.
Newballpark.org, meanwhile, speculates that the easiest way for MLB to funnel some money to Wolff would be to allow the A’s to keep receiving revenue sharing money once they move into a new stadium. (MLB changed its revenue sharing rules a few years back to prohibit teams in big markets from getting checks, but exempted Oakland from this prohibition until a new stadium is built.) It’s certainly something that the league could do, though you have to wonder if MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would have to twist some arms to get other owners to agree to kick in to dispense with the Coliseum. He doesn’t seem a very arm-twisty guy, but we’ll see.
Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff is interviewed in the new Athletics Magazine — man, wonder how they got that scoop, huh? — and had this to say about the team’s stadium demands:
We continue to respect the desire of the Raiders for a new football-only venue, while we of course would like to play in a new or vastly improved baseball-only venue.
That’s tantalizingly close to saying he’d consider a renovated Oakland Coliseum, though he doesn’t actually say the word “renovated.” But you don’t say “or vastly improved” to your own house organ if you don’t want to at least leave a door open.
What could possibly be done to the Coliseum to improve it? Newballpark.org proprietor Marine Layer has some ideas, including either tearing down the Mount Davis seats installed for the Raiders or incorporating them into a new seating bowl. (I think ML has neglected the setting sun being in batters’ eyes in that plan, but maybe the geography isn’t quite what I think it is.) I’ve previously noted that I’m an unabashed fan of the Coliseum, particularly if Mount Davis were removed, so it’d be interesting to see what, if anything, Wolff has in mind here. Mayor Libby Schaaf, can you ask him next time you see him and report back? Thanks, we’d all appreciate it.