Major League Baseball Asks Court to Toss San Jose’s Lawsuit Over Oakland A’s

A recent Oakland A's game at the Coliseum. The team is at the center of a court battle to force Major League Baseball to allow the team to move to San Jose. (Dan Brekke/KQED)
A recent Oakland A’s game at the Coliseum. The team is at the center of a court battle to force Major League Baseball to allow the team to move to San Jose. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

There’s an acronym popular among baseball fans on social media, TOOTBLAN.  It stands for Thrown Out On The Basepaths Like A Nincompoop — what happens when a runner misjudges the amount of time he has to scramble onto a base before the opposing team sees what he’s doing and tags him out.

If Major League Baseball has its way, the city of San Jose will be TOOTCLAN, Thrown Out Of The Courtroom Like …well, you get the idea. On Wednesday, MLB’s legal team asked a federal judge to throw out the lawsuit that the city filed in June over its attempt to get the Oakland Athletics to move to the South Bay. The Mercury News has a story and the legal documentation.

San Jose decided to take baseball to court after waiting more than four years for a decision from the major leagues — team owners and senior MLB officials—on the possible relocation of the A’s to the South Bay. Major League Baseball currently assigns the territorial rights to Santa Clara County to the San Francisco Giants. It can revoke those rights if three-fourths of the clubs agree, but baseball Commissioner Bud Selig hasn’t wanted to put the issue to a vote, preferring to try to find a solution acceptable to everyone who’s got a stake in the A’s moving—or staying in Oakland (or possibly hoping that the whole question will go away before his scheduled retirement in 2015).

San Jose says that every day it waits, it’s losing revenue and jobs that construction and a functioning ballpark would bring to the city.  The city’s lawsuit contends that Major League Baseball is conspiring to interfere with the option it has granted the A’s to purchase land near Diridon Station downtown, on which team owners, led by Lew Wolff, would build a ballpark.

Baseball’s lawyers argue, unsurprisingly, that the city doesn’t have a leg to stand on. First, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the major leagues have been exempt from federal antitrust law since the 1920s, and the MLB court filing argues it would take congressional action to change that. The filing also says that though baseball’s failure to grant the A’s permission to move is one reason the team is still in Oakland, there are a number of other obstacles standing between the city and its dreams of having a major league team. Those barriers include the uncertain legal status of the land the city bought through its now-defunct redevelopment agency, acquisition of some other land the city doesn’t own, and the need for the city to formally approve a stadium project.  This, the suit alleges, makes any damages San Jose has suffered extremely speculative.

Furthermore, Major League Baseball says San Jose doesn’t even have standing in the case, since baseball never had any relationship with the city. If San Jose could sue baseball for not letting the A’s move there, the major league filing argues, so could every other city in the country that wants a baseball team. (And guess who doesn’t want teams to move? Every city that has one. Just ask Oakland.)

Judge Ronald M. Whyte is expected to hold a hearing on the case in early October. The A’s option to buy the land from San Jose expires in early November, although both parties can choose to renew it for a year. In the meantime, the team is negotiating with the managers of the Oakland Coliseum for a lease extension, reportedly through 2018.

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Nina Thorsen

Nina Thorsen is a radio producer and director, and frequently reports on sports issues.  Previously, she produced and co-created KQED's "Pacific Time" and was the deputy foreign editor for "Marketplace". Thorsen began her public radio career while a student at the University of Minnesota, as a ticket taker for "A Prairie Home Companion".

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