Fight to land MLB’s A’s is tale of 3 cities

The Oakland A’s years-long quest for a new home is really a tale

of three cities.

Oakland is desperately trying to keep the team from moving out

of a city already struggling with crime, financial woes and blow

after blow to its public image. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has made

retention of the A’s a focal point of her re-election campaign.

To the south in the heart of booming Silicon Valley, San Jose is

seeking to bolster its profile and treasury with an aggressive

campaign to win the A’s, including a legal challenge to Major

League Baseball’s sacrosanct antitrust exemption that the mayor

vows to take to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Standing in the way are San Francisco’s Giants, who claim the

lucrative Silicon Valley commercial market as their exclusive

territory. And so far, the Giants are winning.

On Nov. 25, the A’s announced the signing of a two-year lease to

play in Coliseum through the 2015 season. And court documents

recently filed revealed that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig informed

the A’s this summer that the league had rejected the team’s

proposed move to San Jose.

In court on Dec. 13, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte in

San Jose asked MLB lawyer John Keker if the letter was an

”unequivocal” denial.

”What the A’s asked the commissioner to approve was

unequivocally denied,” Keker replied.

Selig’s letter itself wasn’t included in the court filing and no

reason was disclosed for the rejection – though San Jose strongly

suspects the league is acquiescing to the Giants commercial


The commissioner’s letter does not preclude the A’s ownership

from resubmitting a new application for a move to San Jose. And the

A’s still want to move from the Coliseum because of its state of

disrepair and the fact that it shares the stadium – and revenues –

with the Oakland Raiders of the NFL.

In September, A’s players reported foul smells from the bathroom

end of their dugout. That came after a June incident in which a

clogged pipe caused a sewage backup and flooding on the bottom

floor of the ballpark that sent the Seattle Mariners and A’s

scrambling around in towels and heading for higher ground in the

Raiders’ locker room.

After a hazmat crew inspected the affected areas, new carpeting

was installed and other extensive repairs were made to the visiting


Calling the Coliseum ”a pit,” Selig has acknowledged the A’s

need a new stadium, but has stopped short of naming or advocating a


Historically, landing professional teams has done little to

improve the winning city’s bottom line, says Nathaniel Grow, a

University of Georgia law school professor and expert in the field

of sports business.

”The economics are usually overstated,” Grow said. ”But there

is an intangible civic pride element that national exposure brings

with professional sports teams.”

Nonetheless, San Jose and Oakland want the A’s.

”If it wasn’t for the Giants, the A’s would be playing in San

Jose,” said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, who figures the A’s will

generate $5 million in tax revenues annually while bolstering the

city’s civic pride. ”It certainly would have a dramatic impact on

our downtown.”

The Giants have declined to discuss their role in the A’s

proposed move to San Jose. But MLB says that the city is part of

the Giants’ marketing territory which the league is able to protect

through an antitrust exemption granted in 1922 by Congress.

During San Jose’s five-year pursuit of the A’s, the team’s

owners have been receptive. A’s Managing Partner Lew Wolff has even

paid $100,000 for an option to buy six parcels of land in downtown

San Jose from the city for $7 million to build a stadium near the

home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

But frustrated with MLB’s apparent inaction on the A’s proposal

to move to Silicon Valley, San Jose filed a federal lawsuit on June

18 seeking to invalidate the antitrust exemption and pave the way

for the A’s to move there.

Meantime, Oakland’s mayor is not letting the A’s leave without a

fight. Quan says the city has at least two sites the A’s can use to

build a new stadium or the current stadium can be repaired and

remodeled to the A’s satisfaction. Quan said she believes the A’s

will have difficulty moving to San Jose because of the Giants’

territorial rights.

”The odds of them leaving have never been particularly good,”

Quan said.