07 October 2005

Lew & Billy on Ronn Owens show

Ronn Owens had Lew Wolff and Billy Beane in the last hour of Owens's show on KGO yesterday. In between Owens's efforts to get Beane to admit that he dislikes Ken Macha (which didn't work) and goodnatured barbs about Billy's "8-track"-like monochrome Blackberry (I have one, it's from work so it's free and it works so I can't complain), Wolff answered all manner of ballpark-related questions.

Caller: What's wrong with the Coliseum?
Wolff: We have 140 deficiencies relative to our baseball operation alone in that facility. But more important, MLB wants all the teams to have a baseball-only facility, and we're one of the last ones around that needs to fit to that criteria.
  • I hadn't heard of the "140 deficiencies" before. I'd like to see that list. I can think of a dozen, but those mainly deal with the fan experience, not baseball itself.
Owens: Can the market (East Bay-San Francisco) really support two teams?
Wolff: The answer to that with some clarification is "No it can't," in the sense that if there were only no team in Oakland or no team in San Francisco, MLB would only allow one team in the area. So we have to sort of force feed a ballpark to work in Oakland or Alameda County which we're trying to do by finding a site, first of all, and also trying to measure (which we'll do in the next couple of months) the depth of interest in our special suites and boxes.
  • It's very important to not take this answer out of context, or to not exclude the qualifier. What Wolff is saying is probably true from the sense that if one team were in place and MLB were looking for an expansion or relocation franchise, the East Bay market would not immediately be a candidate for a second team. And if MLB were to start over from scratch, it probably wouldn't automatically place two teams in the area. Now since a second team is already present, they'll do what they can to support the second team. One could glean from the response that it's a sort of veiled threat - that if the A's were to move out, no one should expect a second team to replace it anytime soon. Sounds like a shot across the bows of Oakland, Alameda County, San Jose, etc.
  • The second part of the answer, gauging the interest in the suites/boxes, should not be disregarded. It's almost as important as getting a site, because it's a measure of whether the market can economically support the team. Wolff is not about to get himself into a situation where he has a bunch of unsold suites, as many teams are starting to find out with their new ballparks. It's a challenge to what I wrote a couple of days ago about Oakland not being a small market team. If the sales of these suites don't pass this litmus test, the Oakland is a small - and thereby incapable - market, at least by Wolff's and baseball's standards. There is probably some amount of grey area with this issue, at least.
Owens: What if it isn't up to what you'll expect?
Wolff: Our next choice would be to find a location somewhere in Alameda County. After that, I really don't know what to do.
Owens: But the odds are that you guys will stay at least in Alameda County?
Wolff: We're trying to.
Owens (turns to Beane): Try to drive a truck through that answer too, huh Billy?

Owens: How about going to San Jose? Do you know the way there?
Wolff: I know the way there. I'm very active in San Jose, it's a great city. First of all, baseball does have a formal area - districts as they call them
or territories, and the Giants have that territory. So the only way that would be changed is if there was an agreement with the Giants or with MLB. It's not a legal issue that some people would like to pursue. And the other thing is San Jose - and I was party to it, I think - has a requirement of having a vote, a public vote, for any expenditure for sports - I think it's over $20,000 or some de minimis amount - and that vote would require some team to say "We'll come subject to a vote," whether it's baseball, football, whatever it is. And that's a big inhibitor even if the territorial thing was available.
  • The important thing here is that Wolff hasn't changed his stance since the last time he spoke about San Jose. Back then, he said wouldn't challenge territorial rights, and he has remained consistent. He did bring up the concept of MLB changing rights, but Selig was in San Jose only a few weeks ago and said that that to do so would create anarchy - though he did not dismiss the idea altogether.
  • It's interesting that Wolff brought up the San Jose's vote-expenditure law. He's right, but it appears that San Jose may have effectively evaded the law by acquiring the Diridon South properties and claiming that they are for housing or mixed-use without actually specifying a particular purpose. Sneaky - yes. The revealing thing is that he's following the recent trend of proponents trying to get a ballpark through without a public vote - a tactic which has worked in DC and is being tried in Minneapolis - as though any kind of vote were a non-starter. There may be some wiggle room, since SF and SJ voted down publicly-funded parks while SF approved the Pac Bell Park deal, but getting an owner to commit to announcing anything as significant as a move would be like pulling teeth, since the owner would lose some negotiating leverage and encounter backlash.
Owens: How's the project (Coliseum North) going?
Wolff: The progress is basically getting our ducks in a row to see if we can privately convince the property owners - and there's quite a few of them - that this might be to their advantage to be bought out, perhaps relocate in other places in Oakland. So it's a challenge but our problem is that no one has offered or presented us any other sites, and there's a logic to being in that location because it's adjacent to the Coliseum, it has BART, which is critical to us, and the freeway system. So it's quite a challenge. Some people think we've teed up something that can't happen. That's possible to think that way, but we're gonna give it a real shot before we look at other alternates.
  • This may be the most troubling part of the interview to me. Wolff hasn't dismissed the idea of other sites which may be more or less feasible, but the fact that no one has formally presented any is disturbing. It's as if all of the ballpark eggs are being put in this one basket. Wolff has acknowledged from the beginning that the Coliseum North project is going to be difficult. It would be nice to know that there was a reasonable detailed concept of a Plan B floating around the Oakland Civic Center somewhere.
The whole interview is subject to some broad interpretation, but unless someone wants to spend a lot of time reading between the lines, the substance of what was being said is pretty much the status quo: Coliseum is inadequate, project is challenging but is moving along, San Jose isn't in our territory, etc.


Georob said...

KGO archives all its audio for 24 hours on its website, so you can still listen to it up until Saturday morning

Bleacher Dave said...

Surely the other identified sites are well known to the A's. With the loss of Uptown, there doesn't seem to be anywhere else to go in Oakland.

Does Fishers majority ownership make it unlikely that the A's would move out of the area? He was one of the forces behind keeping the Giants in town, and I imagine he would do everything he could to keep the A's in town.

Zennie Abraham said...


What Wolff's referring to by "deficiencies" are basically items that are related to maintenance and needed improvements to everything from the stairwells to the stadium's hallway width.

When I worked to bring the Super Bowl to Oakland, I counted over 60 problems with the stadium. My guess is that the A's are also including those, and others like dirty carpets in luxury boxes, incomplete repairs either SMG or the authority was to do, plus any provisions related to sharing their stadium with the Oakland Raiders.