Commissioner’s Remarks Interpreted: ‘Selig to San Jose: Drop Dead’

The way to San Jose? It ain’t through Major League Baseball, that’s for sure.

Not according to Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone’s interpretation of some remarks MLB Commissioner Bud Selig made last week.

Regarding baseball’s interminable process (1164 days and counting according to newballpark.org) of deciding should they stay or can they go when it comes to A’s owner Lew Wolff’s fondest hope of hightailing it out of  Oakland for Silicon Valley, Selig said this last Thursday, per AP:

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig says it’s up to Oakland owner Lew Wolff to decide whether to consider additional sites for a new ballpark for the Athletics, leaving open the possibility of a move outside the Bay Area.

Speaking Thursday after a quarterly owners’ meeting, Selig said there’s no timetable for resolving Oakland’s dispute with the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are preventing the A’s from building a ballpark in San Jose, which is part of the Giants’ territory… Asked whether the A’s would consider other relocation possibilities, Selig responded: “You’d have to ask Lew Wolff. That’s really his decision to make….It depends where they’d be. They could be all over the world, for that matter. They need approval. We have to go through an approval process. It just depends on where they’re moving to.”

Selig said last month he hoped the A’s and Giants would resolve the matter themselves, but there’s no indication that will happen.

“Both clubs yesterday made a presentation to the executive council, but there’s nothing new other than that,” Selig said. He added that he can’t provide a timetable and responded “no” when asked whether some kind of decision was approaching.

Later that day I gave Assessor Stone, who’s been working on enabling an A’s move to his neck of the woods since Bill Clinton was in office, to see if he’d interpreted Selig’s reported comments yet. He had.

I would interpret Mr. Selig’s comments as meaning that San Jose’s site is off the table and he’s asking Lew Wolff to consider additional sites other than San Jose. You can only conclude I guess that that’s a rejection of a potential move of the A’s to San Jose. And that’s extremely disappointing.

When the commissioner says Lew Wolff needs to look at other options, additional sites for ballparks, it would seem to me that puts the San Jose site closed out. I can’t interpret that any other way. If there’s something I’m missing here, I’d be glad to listen. I hope there’s something I’m missing here. If moving the A’s to San Jose is in fact dead, it means San Jose and Silicon Valley will not have a MLB team forever.

Stone wants the Giants to do the same thing for the A’s that the A’s did for the Giants back in the 1990s, when A’s owner Walter Haas ceded to the Giants, who were looking to move to San Jose, the territorial rights to Santa Clara County. “The mistake that was made by MLB and by the A’s,” Stone says, “is that the territorial rights given to the Giants by the A’s in the 1990s should have been conditioned on the success of the ballot measure to bring the Giants to San Jose. That measure failed, but the territorial rights remained.”

A couple of Chronicle columnists subsequently agreed with the “Selig to A’s and San Jose: Drop Dead” subtext of Selig’s remarks. From Al Saracevic:

Looks like Wolff’s game of chicken isn’t paying off. Commissioner Bud Selig told the A’s this past week to look elsewhere if they want. But the subtext was clear: San Jose shouldn’t be on their itinerary…

Wolff and his silent majority partner, John Fisher, need to give up on San Jose. They need to partner up with city government and local business leaders on a plan that will work in Oakland. This is a city that needs all the help it can get. As the wealthy curators of this public trust, you owe the city and the team’s fans that much. Find a way to get a beautiful new stadium built in Oakland. If you can’t do that, sell it to someone who will.

And from Gwen Knapp:

Asked whether the A’s might consider leaving Northern California altogether, [Selig] said they could go anywhere that would win approval from the other owners.

“They could be all over the world, for that matter,” Selig said.

One translation: Mumbai has as much a shot as San Jose.

A better interpretation: Oakland, it’s your move. We can wait all decade…

No decision means “no” to the A’s. They aren’t getting the rights to San Jose, not yet, not soon, not even over Larry Baer’s stone-cold corpse.

Knapp also addressed the Giants’ putting up a big fat roadblock to the move, which Stone has repeatedly and bitterly complained about. Stone says, “the Giants’ plan and model has been throughout this controversy to keep the A’s in Oakland, where everybody knows the A’s cannot survive in that ballpark. If they can keep them in Oakland, they know eventually the team will fail financially and they will have to move the team, most likely out of the Bay Area.”

Knapp says this:

[Selig's] comment might have triggered disgust over the A’s situation, and the Giants’ role in it. But try to imagine how much public disgust would be needed to shame the Giants about the possibility of forcing the other baseball team out of their market. Now double it, and triple it. You’ll be wrong, and the Giants will be ordering Champagne for the day the moving vans pull up to the Coliseum.

So what do the A’s have to say? From the AP article:

“Lew continues to be committed to moving to San Jose, following the procedures and guidelines of the commissioner and the committee,” team spokesman Ken Pries said. “The focus has not changed in keeping the team in the Bay Area, and specifically San Jose. The focus is San Jose, No. 1, and keeping the team in the Bay Area.”

Earlier this month, Don Knauss, the chairman and CEO of Oakland-based Clorox, held a press conference with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and representatives from other major East Bay companies to express  support for keeping the A’s in Oakland and calling on Lew Wolff and John Fisher to sell the team if something to that effect couldn’t be worked out. Wolff has said recently the team is not for sale.

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Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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