17 March 2009

I smell a soap opera coming

Update 3/17 8:30 AM: Chip Johnson rips both City of Oakland and Wolff, suggests keeping team colors and history in Oakland.

Update 3/16 10:30 PM: Wolff apologizes, acknowledges season ticket sales are down.

Or rather, the soap opera's already here. Between the
gamesmanship displayed by two somewhat grumpy old men over the weekend and reporters trying to figure out what the state of territorial rights is, there is no shortage of drama. That's great for the blog as it gives me something to write about, but frankly it's getting a bit tiresome. Not the blog, it's the writing about the drama that's tiresome. So you'll have to forgive me if for the rest of the blog's indeterminate life, I don't write about every minor trial and tribulation. There will be major events and major issues to discuss. The stuff that happened the last few days? It doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Take Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. Some here and in the media have baselessly speculated about Lew Wolff's future as A's managing partner. What's more likely is that in 18 months, Dellums will be gearing up to get out of Dodge. 6 weeks ago, Dellums' approval rating hovered at a W-like 25%, with a 60% disapproval rate. That's probably eked up a bit thanks to recent news about lower crime rates, but he can't get rid of the stink from his first 18 months on the job that easily. Dellums hasn't said anything about running for a second term, and it would appear that a bag of rocks could defeat him at this point. It's more likely that the usual council suspects (IDLF, Nadel, Brunner) will be climbing over each other for the brass ring.

Just 3 months before Dellums leaves office, the A's current lease will expire, and the team will be on a year-to-year lease through 2013. Wolff's statement that Oakland was done effectively removes Dellums and the City Council from the process thanks to its timing. It's callous, conniving, and quite final. In 2005, Wolff put out the Coliseum North plan, set his own clock to complete the deal, and ran out the clock before moving on to Fremont. The next two years will be spent running out the clock again. He managed to get a nice piece of insurance in the year-to-year lease extension, in case of a rainy day (or several hundred). Wolff has no reason to leave his perch when he can turn the corner in 2 years while setting his sights on his ultimate goal. If Wolff failed in his next endeavor and was forced to go back to Oakland, it's likely that neither he nor Dellums would be around to make the deal. It would be up to their successors to repair the relationship.

Going back to T-rights, the Chronicle's Giants beat writer Henry Schulman asked Larry Baer, who said "From what we could tell, there is no change in (Selig's) position." That's exactly how I expect it to be for some time to come. That's why Wolff asked San Jose pols to tone down their enthusiasm. If he had not intervened, at some point someone was going to ask MLB directly about T-rights, and whether they asked nicely or aggressively, it wasn't going to curry favor with the Lodge. T-rights, whether stadium or broadcast, is MLB's leverage over any city or market. There's no point in asking unless you come to them unless you're ready to talk turkey. San Jose is in no position to do that yet.

Threats from legislators about removing the antitrust exemption would be misplaced. The exemption, which allows MLB to wield its iron fist over franchise movement, has kept the team in Oakland. If it didn't exist, the A's might already be somewhere else. If it were removed, San Jose would have no restrictions against teams moving there, and that would make Wolff's job easier. I'd love to see the exemption killed, but only because of the right motivations and principles, not something as misguided as what Dellums is considering.

It's going to be a long slog for any ballpark effort for the next 1-2 years. Let's not get distracted by the small stuff.