23 March 2009

A different kind of dystopia

I'd like for you, gentle reader, to read the line below out loud for maximum effect:
San Francisco Athletics
No, this is not about Lew Wolff changing the name of the team in a brazen LAAoA way. It's about the team actually moving to San Francisco, which, had one particular event transpired with a different outcome, is a more likely scenario than any scribe has really deigned to write about.

To understand this, take a trip in the wayback machine to the summer of 1992. It was the last weeks before the San Jose election which would eventually deal Giants owner Bob Lurie a golden sombrero in the stadium-hunting game. San Jose mayor Susan Hammer pushed hard for a 2% utility tax hike in the city to help fund a ballpark for the Giants. Lurie asked MLB and A's owner Walter Haas, Jr. for territorial rights to Santa Clara County, which were up for "annexation." He got the T-rights, which at the time were granted based on the team's possible move south. While Lurie saw San Jose as an opportunity to keep the Giants in the Bay Area while not dealing with the difficult political climate in San Francisco, Haas saw SF and the entire North Bay opening up to him. Win-win, right?

Of course, Lurie did get the golden sombrero, losing 55%-45%, and his attentions quickly turned towards selling the team to Tampa-St. Petersburg interests. Only a Herculean effort among SF political, business, and civic leaders, coupled with some nefarious doings within MLB, kept the team from moving. A new group headed by Safeway CEO Peter Magowan swooped in to save the Giants from moving east, just as Lurie himself saved them from moving to Toronto in 1976. Magowan, a New York transplant and lifelong Giants fan, brought in Barry Bonds and came up with a plan to build a stadium without public money. Haas passed away in 1995, coinciding with the Raiders' return to ruin the Coliseum, and the rest is history.

Had the San Jose ballot initiative passed that summer, the Bay Area baseball landscape would have looked quite different. The Giants would maintain their rules-based territorial hegemony over the region, despite their being located in the southernmost city by 1995. The A's were experiencing their own salad days as they had the highest payroll in baseball in 1991. It would be a few years before the changing economic model caught up to the A's, though Haas was prescient enough to milk as much out of the old model as he could.

Fast forward to 1995. The Giants would have undoubtedly gotten sellouts for at least a few years in their new suburban digs. Oakland would have profited for a time from the Giants being less accessible to SF/Peninsula/North Bay fans, because the San Jose Giants' ballpark was not close to Caltrain. San Francisco would've been left without a baseball team for at least the forseeable future.

Or would it? Steve Schott immediately cried foul upon buying the A's when he saw the Coliseum renovation plans. Any new ownership group would have, including the oft-discussed and low-money Dolich/Piccinini group. Schott continued to whine throughout the rest of his ownership tenure. He'd still want a fancy new ballpark just like most other teams. Schott would still have issues with territorial rights, but this time he'd have an embarrassed SF political base to potentially exploit. Then-mayor Frank Jordan lobbied hard to keep the Giants in town after the San Jose deal fell apart. If it had succeeded, there's no reason to think Jordan wouldn't have worked just as hard to bring a team to town. If not Jordan, then his successor, Willie Brown.

Now think about how this would have played out. You'd have an ego-bruised SF, a soon-to-be chastened Oakland (for the Raiders debacle), and an owner in a position to take advantage of the situation. It's not hard to see SF interests going hard after baseball's antitrust exemption in an attempt to strip the city away from the T-rights of the team that abandoned them. Oakland and Alameda County would've been paralyzed from legal wrangling with the Raiders. By 2000, the climate would've been right for the A's to look for a new permanent home across the bay. SF partisans would use the same economic arguments the SJ partisans now use. It could've even escalated into a bidding war if Oakland were interested, further increasing the likelihood of a publicly-funded ballpark for the A's.

Then again, Jerry Brown was in his second year as Oakland mayor. It would be another three years before he fired City Manager Robert Bobb, who was the administration's biggest advocate for an urban Oakland ballpark. Brown, who had historically hung out in more SF-based circles than Oakland-based circles, wasn't going to lift a finger to keep the A's in town. The path would've been cleared for the A's own exodus, less than a decade after the Giants, to a new home 10 miles away from the old home. Brown probably would've gotten a pat on the back from his SF friends. A transparently moneymaking venture, the move would've been under the guise of "keeping the team in the Bay Area."

So there you have it. In this alternate reality, the net result is paradoxically, ironically similar. The A's leave Oakland, though under completely different circumstances than what has been pitched the last decade.


Georob said...

I don't know if this was touched upon back then, but did the Giants give any indication as to whether they would still have been the "San Francisco" Giants had they moved south? I'm willing to bet there's a pretty good chance that the "SF" would have stayed no matter what, just as the 49'ers have said they would do if they went to Santa Clara.

I get in trouble every time I say this, but the name "San Francisco" has a lot of marketing power, even if you never set foot inside city limits. Even if San Jose grew to be TEN times the size of SF, the most significant landmark of the region(namely, the bay) is still named San Francisco.

BTW, have you noticed there isn't the same teeth-knashing about the Niners moving south as there is the A's? Perhaps it's because the "identity" issue is off the table.

Like I've said, the name on the jerseys is the most important thing to too many here.

Anonymous said...

The agreement to move to San Jose included changing the name to the San Jose Giants--

2 reasons about why there is not as much activity around the 49ers move south--I believe that the average fan for football draws from a much broader area since there are 10 or so games a year---many fans just want a nice stadium in a nice location---Santa Clara site is ideal--second and most important--SF is not a sports town--very few fans come from SF itself-and accessing Candelstick/HuntersPoint for those driving up can be pretty challenging.

Tony D. said...

They would have been the "San Jose Giants." In fact, prior to the 92 vote, SJ Mayor Hammer and Bob Lurie held press conferences in front of "San Jose Giants" banners to promote the utility tax hike. I tell yah, if San Jose fails at getting MLB in town, I hope Kathy Chavez-Napoli rots in hell!

The rest of your post Rob is your classic "San Francisco is better than San Jose" BS!! Gee Rob, maybe the A's should have been the "San Leandro Athletics"..."Diablo Range Athletics?"...give us a break, will yah! Why aren't the Warriors, or Raiders or A's for that matter, named after Frisco?

Anonymous said...


You forgot to mention the best part. Lurie and Feinstein, in their arrogance and infinite wisdom, called for a press conference to let everyone know that while the Giants new ballpark (in a place not then known) was being built they, the Giants, would share the Coliseum with the A's, just like the Yankees and Mets shared Shea while Old/New Yankee was being remodeled.

They notified everyone except the A's. The A's quickly gave nimrod Lurie and Lady Tax Dodger Feinstein a big thumbs down. Nice Try!

BTW Who cares about the Niners? 10 dates for how much? Get real! Stay at Candlestick until you wither away and die.

Tony D. said...

By the way Rhamesis,
Your new poll for CSNCA; are DirecTv viewers going to get this channel? I would have put "good" but I'm not even sure if I'll get the damn thing.

Jeffrey said...

i want to say I remember "Santa Clara Giants" hats being worn on tv.

But you are right about the name on the jersey's thing.

JT said...

"I tell yah, if San Jose fails at getting MLB in town, I hope Kathy Chavez-Napoli rots in hell!"

Well, Tony, I guess you'll wish the same for me, because I was one of those San Jose residents who voted "No" on that 1992 initiative. I did it because I believed then, as I do now, that governmental entities have no business committing their citizens to paying for what is, after all, just another business enterprise. And it's a very lucrative business, it seems, based on player salaries and the profits ownership rakes in.

I now live in an area where community golf courses are very big. After a local course went under a few years ago, the residents got together and bought the course, assessing themselves to revive the course. It was a business proposition for the residents: it helped their property values, plus they got ownership rights and price breaks. I'm not aware of property values in any city being enhanced by the presence of a pro sports team, nor am I aware of any pro franchise that offers similar deals to the citizens paying the debt service on publicly owned stadia, which are invariably losers for the citizens. Ask the people of Oakland how they feel about paying for Mount Davis.

San Francisco and the Giants did it right. As did L.A. and the Dodgers years ago. The teams built the stadiums and the cities gave certain sweetheart deals WRT land, etc. That's an example of how a partnership should work.

Now the A's want to participate in such a partnership. Good for them. Traditionalist that I am, I'd rather the partnership be between the A's and Oakland. But ISTM Oakland had its chance and blew it. I sure wouldn't put any money on how serious Ron Dellums is with his latest ploy; I think he's just profiling for the public.

Bottom line is I support the A's moving to San Jose. It's the only way they'll stay in the Bay Area and it looks as if San Jose is serious about stepping up with that crappy old area down by the train station. The new paradigm for MLB calls for downtown parks; that area fits the bill. The Oakland Coliseum area does not. Neither did the Fremont Auto Mall.

Instead of arguing amongst yourselves about the relative virtues of Oakland and San Jose, I think all of you who want to keep the A's in the Bay Area should be bombarding Selig to get rid of those bogus territorial rights the Giants insist they have. You should also be contacting local congress critters because it's only Congress that stands between MLB and the free market that every other sports league has. That antitrust exemption is not graven in stone.

Oakland folks, I'm sorry, but it isn't going to happen for you. You're going to lose the A's. San Jose is better than the alternatives.

Anonymous said...

Just a small correction; Peter Magowan did not swoop in and save the Giants from going to Florida, because the owners had already agreed to prevent Lurie from moving the franchise before Magowan even got his partnership together. Thus, what Magowan actually saved the Giants from was Lurie continuing to own the team in San Francisco. Former San Diego owner Tom Werner said as much to the Boston Globe a few years ago. Magowan has perpetrated that myth for 16 years, and it is no more true now than ever.

Anonymous said...

@JT: "that crappy old area down by the train station": this is actually a nice neighborhood with both new townhomes (Cahill Park, Plant 51, Georgetown) and historic turn of the century homes in St. Leos and further away Shasta Hanchett Park.

Of Topic, sorry: as an example why this is not a great site for a baseball stadium: this morning there was an "inspirational" event for just 16,000 people at the Pavilion, and the City Dept. of Transportation (and Mr. Roadshow) warned everyone to stay clear of the expected delays on teh 87, city streets, and find parking elsewhere. Now imagine a stadium of at least double that many people with evening games that start when the 87 is already gridlocked. Or are we supposed to think that the whole East Bay is coming down the 880 (also already backed up) ?? Who will take Caltrain to go to anything but a Giants game ?? BART lacks funding for full build-out to Diridon.

This requires some more serious thought than just the simple "let's build it and we deal with the problems later": no fun for fans nor neighbors.

Marine Layer said...

The reason for the warning was simple. The Pavilion doesn't normally schedule large events like the motivational event during the day. Most events occur after evening rush hour. In this case, there was a parking crush because many of the area resources such as the Water Company and Diridon lots are used during the day by commuters. I walked the dog by there this morning and noticed the hubbub. Attendees were walking from downtown proper like it was a Sharks game.

With night baseball, it's a different scenario. As long as additional parking is made available to accommodate demand it's very doable. Weekday afternoon baseball, OTOH, that's going to be a problem. 87 is a mess ballpark or not.

Oakland A's fan said...

Just move them to Sacramento where real baseball fans live. Look what they've done with the Rivercats and Raley Field, time for the A's to move on.