26 March 2007

SJ Giants Exit, Enter SJ A's?

Last November we discussed how the A's move to Fremont might affect the San Jose Giants. The move would invoke baseball's Rule 52, which requires consent by or compensation for a team whose territory has been encroached. Now it appears that a decision is about to be made. With no likelihood for the $8 million being sought by the Giants' owners to renovate San Jose Municipal Stadium, the state of the ballpark forces their hand. Both the SJ and SF Giants have wanted Muni to be upgraded for some time, though neither wants to foot much of the bill for it.

The SJ Giants are approaching their 20th year in existence, the longest continuous tenure of any team in San Jose. Over those two decades they've cultivated a small, devoted fanbase while showcasing *ahem* a few future SF Giants. Should the team move there will be a void that a major league team can't quite fill. Minor league baseball has an intimacy and pace that can't be captured at a major league park.

Don't cry too much for the SJ Giants' owners. Even one of the majority owners, Dick Beahrs, admits that "If the team moved elsewhere, I think you can make an argument that economically it makes sense, but we wouldn't be getting together on Thursdays in July to watch a game together." The owners will certainly be well-compensated. There's still a movement afoot for a team in the North Bay, which certainly sounds like a natural fit once the Bay Area baseball realignment has begun. The fans, however, won't receive much solace.

As it stands, the A's are still early in a relationship with new high-A affliate Stockton. The Ports play in a shiny new riverfront ballpark of their own, and it's difficult to envision that arrangement changing. The A's did operate two high-A franchises in early Beane era, so who's to say that can't happen again? Consider this:

The A's could bring SJ Muni into the SJSU-Earthquakes project, which makes sense because it's the same part of town. The A's, Quakes, and San Jose partner on Muni renovation, which would benefit the A's and San Jose (good PR), and SJSU (updated facility). While the Giants' tradition would leave, a new one could start for the A's. Stockton's market isn't threatened by a team in central San Jose. Bay Area fans would have an even greater opportunity to see A's draftees matriculate through the farm system - which tends to pay more dividends than the Giants'.

If the concept sounds bizarre, keep this in mind: One of the first sports teams Lew Wolff invested in was the late 70's San Jose Missions. Wolff has experience with the minors. The Mets and Yankees both have short-season teams in the five boroughs (Coney Island and Staten Island, respectively).

Of course, there are business reasons for not having a minor league club in San Jose. San Jose is already full of non-major league sports franchises that compete against each other (Sabercats, Stealth), and having a baseball team would dilute the market. A baseball team would also compete with the parent A's to an extent, and certainly with the Quakes for the budget sports dollar. Also, how would pro-MLB San Jose partisans feel about such a move? Would they consider it patronizing? I'd like to see the A's preserve minor league baseball for the multitude of reasons described above, but it requires some scratch and someone else to operate the team, and the economics may not allow such a situation to occur.