13 December 2008

Purdy fires up the SJ bandwagon

Merc sports columnist Mark Purdy has always been an unabashed San Jose partisan, and his column in Sunday's edition will start many more San Jose partisans' minds a-wishing. It's not only an affirmation of San Jose's potential, it's nearly a call to arms:

In a recent phone conversation with Wolff, he was relentlessly prudent when I tried to push him into saying San Jose was his intended alternate target. He simply kept repeating the letter's language. But earlier, Wolff told MediaNews that "I don't think there's any restrictions as to where" the A's can look. A phone call to Selig's office late last week seeking clarification was not returned.

Here is one thing many people don't understand: The Giants may indeed possess the territorial rights to the South Bay. But they do not control those territorial rights. Major League Baseball does. And if enough team owners vote to allow the A's into Santa Clara County, those territorial rights would vanish.

Long ago, a highly placed baseball source told me Selig could easily get such a vote passed on behalf of the A's. But he did not wish to do so — it would require political maneuvering with some big egos — unless a ballpark would definitely be built as a result.

That brings me back to the question I asked on Monday night: Why did Selig allow Steve Schott to start discussions with Santa Clara?

In 2000, years before this blog was first published, Wolff predecessor Steve Schott tried to get a ballpark done in Santa Clara. It was to be placed in the same location as the planned 49ers stadium. At the time there was no pressure on Oakland to get a ballpark deal done. There was no bidding war among cities. It was just Schott trying to get a deal done in a city where he grew up and maintained a business.

Bud Selig could've immediately put his foot down, stomped on Schott's plan, and reinforced the Giants' territorial rights. He didn't. He played wait and see with the plan and didn't slap it down for five months. Why would he wait so long? Probably because the A's were in a fluid situation, entertaining either a move to Santa Clara or a sale to out-of-area interests. News about that sale to Mandalay Sports was leaked in August 2001, forcing the Santa Clara City Council to end talks. Schott eventually got a ballpark built, but instead of a major league stadium, it was a smaller field for his alma mater, Santa Clara University.

Selig's stance on the Giants' T-rights has been consistent until Monday night, when he busted out the letter with the "other communities" phrase, a tantalizingly and maddeningly vague one at that. Does that sound like a consistent application of a rule or principle? Not to me. Selig's being an opportunist here. If he sees a deal that works for MLB and both the A's and Giants, he should be able to get plenty of support from the other owners. If not, he can cite territorial rights and lend the rule its mythical power.

That's why it puzzles me that so many believe T-rights are this entirely intractable situation. I wrote in Thursday's post that the biggest barrier to entry is not so much T-rights as it is money. It's not cheap or easy to move from one market to another. The costs involved can be absolutely staggering. That's why no movement has occurred in the NFL in a decade even though until recently four teams had outdated stadiums. I stand by my statement that territorial rights are obsolete, though I will amend that with the acknowledgment that the commissioner can use the rule to control discourse. Judging by his actions regarding the A's, that's exactly what he's done.