21 September 2008

A little advice to Lew: Change the tone

The Rusty Simmons-penned article about Lew Wolff's Q&A session with the A's booster club and Ray Ratto's follow-up brought me back to the old adage: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. That brings up the following exchange:

Q: What will transit options be in Fremont?

A: Instead of just saying, 'If you don't have a BART station, you can't survive,' we're trying to figure out if we can. If we can, we will. If we can't, we won't. Of course, then we wouldn't be in California any more.

The media and fans have been focused on that last, cringeworthy sentence. It hides a fundamental problem in his response. Assuming that the mayoral race and EIR come through, he's going to build it without an adjacent BART station. It's not a matter of someone telling him the team won't survive without it. There's no way to determine that until the ballpark is built and operational. BART's importance ranks behind the development plan and financing, corporate sponsorships, and ongoing patronage from the existing fanbase, which overwhelming comes by car, not BART.

It really comes down to a few facts about the situation. First, there's nothing that can be done until election day with the mayoral election, which I suspect sticks in Lew's craw more than he's outwardly indicating. Then there's the EIR, which won't happen until late November or December. There's little else to discuss, whether it's a move out-of-state or to San Jose, since massive obstacles confront both possibilities.(FWIW, I haven't seen many yard signs advertising mayoral candidates in Fremont.)

As long as the waiting game continues to be played, he might as well have a more open, ongoing dialogue with the existing fanbase. Explain why the move needs to happen - and yes, that means being truthful about the Silicon Valley overtures. Talk about how the team will make every effort not to abandon the loyal hardcore fan, and then follow that up with action. As alluring as the South Bay is, the South Bay is not enough all by itself. Just as the East Bay isn't enough by itself.

Wolff's been making great strides building good PR in Fremont, but I sense that not enough care and feeding has happened elsewhere. It's akin to the current presidential campaigns, whose efforts are almost entirely focused on a handful of "battleground" states, but not to states where the base is expected to turn out en masse.

Perhaps the most important issue is for Wolff to keep his foot out of his mouth. A couple more comments like that and he'll venture into Jeff Loria territory, and that is truly poisonous for all. Well, maybe not for columnists like Ratto, for whom controversy is their stock and trade.