23 March 2009

BREAKING: Miami-Dade County passes ballpark proposal

The proceedings started almost 10 hours ago. After a full day's worth of explanations and grandstanding (I didn't tune in until an hour ago), it appears that the Marlins ballpark plan at the Orange Bowl passed with a 10-3 9-4 vote. I say "appears" because the webcast was so prone to breaking up and losing audio that I can't be absolutely sure. Whether it passed 9-4 or 10-3 doesn't matter, 9 votes were needed and they got it. County officials could only say that the plan "shouldn't involve general funds" instead of guaranteeing it.

Insofar as the A's are concerned, the only indirect effect is that by July 1 the Marlins can be scrubbed off the potential contraction list. As we know, it takes two to dance the contraction tango.

Update: Story from Sun-Sentinel reporter Sarah Talalay's ongoing blog about the Marlins ballpark travails.

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.