Thursday, September 30, 2010

Timeline Reveals 15 Years of Schott & Wolff Mistreating Oakland

In 1995, about 10 years before Lew Wolff and John Fisher bought the A's, the team's new owners were Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman. Schott was a one-man wrecking crew; a PR nightmare on legs. In Schott's first interview as A's owner, all Schott did was rip Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, and Terry Steinbach. Nice first impression. Within days, he chased away manager Tony La Russa, beloved A's announcer Lon Simmons, Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley. Pinching pennies and saving money were always behind Schott's moves, most of which made fans scratch their heads or want to pull their hair out.

From the moment he took over, Schott was obsessed with moving the A's to the South Bay, and almost immediately, he directed his right hand man at the time, Ed Alvarez, to look into moving the team out of Oakland. Within a couple of years, Alvarez and Schott had a falling out and Alvarez filed a wrongful lawsuit against Schott, which they eventually settled quietly out of court.

But don't take my word for it. You can read all about these and other parts of Schott’s malevolent reign as team owner in our ownership timeline, which has Web links to almost every item. In short, the timeline is a 15-year look at the A’s ownership and their relentless efforts to turn their backs on their loyal fans and the city of Oakland.

Pick a month out of any year from the timeline and you’ll see Schott — and later Wolff — putting his foot in his mouth, whining about money, or saying something crass or brazenly anti-Oakland — all things that turned off the average fan.

Seriously, pick any random month: How about July 1997? That time features a Chronicle article where the A’s traded Mark McGwire just two months after McGwire criticized Schott for publicly saying the A’s might move out of Oakland after the ’98 season.

How about March of 2001? That's when Schott attended a Santa Clara city council meeting to announce that he needed time to convince Commissioner Selig to allow him to move there.

Or how about March 1998? That’s another Chronicle article, this time with quotes from a "South Bay developer" named Lew Wolff who says in print: "If I was going to pursue a ballpark, I would certainly do it in San Jose … and I would work through the mayor and the Redevelopment Agency."

Yep, that's what Wolff was saying in 1998 — 12 years ago. More than a decade later, it's exactly what Wolff is trying to do now.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's a whole lot more in that timeline. Just click here for more.

My point is that, contrary to what the anti-Oakland crowd likes to say, the truth is that since 1995, time and again, the city of Oakland has reached out to A's owners. And for the past 15 years, time and again Schott and Wolff failed to reciprocate because they’ve been hell-bent on their quixotic quest to move the team south.

But don't take anybody at their word, even us. Verify all of this by going to the timeline and checking out Schott's and Wolff's whole sorry history.

Be warned, however. If you’re an A's fan, you might want to pour yourself a stiff drink first. Leave it to Rickey Henderson to best summarize the whole situation. In the same 1998 article that contains the above Wolff quote, Rickey all but shakes his head at how Schott was running the A's at the time. Rickey said: "Oakland can support a big-league team … The Haas family put more into the community. That's why they had the support of the community."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Market the A's Better, Part III

This is part three of our ongoing series: How to Market the A's Better to Oakland and the Bay Area. Part One can be found by clicking here.

Part Two can be found by clicking here.

We started this series because Lew Wolff and John Fisher do very little in marketing the A's to A's fans. So, to fill the gaping hole in the front office's marketing efforts, here are more ideas:

Celebrate the history of the A's more: It was nice to see Joe Rudi back at the Coliseum this year, but one 1970s Throwback Day per year doesn't cut it. The Oakland A's have one of the best team histories from which to draw, but in the past 15 years, the Giants have run circles around Steve Schott and now Lew Wolff, in terms of celebrating their team's amazing tradition. Baseball is all about nostalgia and tradition. So, it boggles the mind why the A's currently don’t make much use of their uniquely rich and colorful history.

Advertise in foreign languages: During the Moneyball years, the A's should have had Spanish-language billboards with Miguel Tejadas face in Oakland's largest Hispanic neighborhood, the Fruitvale District. Why can't the A's and Gio Gonzales do that now? They can do the same with Kurt Suzuki in Japantown in San Francisco, or in the Tri-City area (Fremont, Union City, Newark) where the Asian population is quite large. If those local markets have been previously unenthusiastic about A's baseball, maybe it's because no one has reached out to them.

College Nights: Hold a separate Stanford Night and UC Berkeley night and St. Mary's Night and Cal State East Bay Night, etc., at the Coliseum during different A's games. Also, we recommend setting up a ticket window at each of the campuses of the four-year universities where you can sell A's tickets for a student discount all season long. Also, hold A's events in the main student center one day per year at each of the campuses each March (a month before the season starts) to generate interest right when people are starting to think about baseball. If you make it affordable for these students to enjoy a game when they're broke and eating ramen three nights a week at age 20, they might reward that loyalty by buying A's tickets when they're older and have more disposable income after they join the work force. There's also a long-term strategy of gaining new fans from people that come from all around the country to attend local universities and whose loyalties are up for grabs when they move to a new area. These same students eventually settle down, of course. And if you win their fan loyalty then they'll raise their future kids to be A's fans once they've started a family and bought a house in the Bay Area. Promotions such as College Nights work for the short term and the long term for a MLB franchise’s health.

There are many, many more ideas for reaching out to fans and corporations to sell A's tickets. We'll share more of them next week. In the meantime, ask yourself: Why aren't Wolff and Fisher doing at least some of these ideas in order to sell tickets? Oakland isn't failing Wolff and Fisher, rather it's these owners who are failing Oakland.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ratto: A's Owners' Strategy is the Problem

The A's just held Fan Appreciation Day, which is ironic, because no owners show less day-to-day appreciation for their fans than Lew Wolff and John Fisher.

Example: The A's keep few concession stands open at the Coliseum, which contributes to unnecessarily long lines. And if you sit in the bleachers, then you have to walk literally halfway across the stadium just to wait in one of those long lines to get something as basic as a hot dog. What if you're a senior citizen with creaky knees, or a single mom taking your rambunctious young kids to the ballpark? What should be fun is instead quickly made very inconvenient. That's not fan-friendly. It's called running things on the cheap and having little regard for your customers. And it's just one of many different examples of how Wolff and Fisher mismanage the A's and then scapegoat Oakland and loyal A's fans.

So, when Wolff's apologists say the A’s need a new stadium to solve their problems, they're putting the cart before the horse. Yes, we all want a new ballpark. But the A's need new owners first. Because this ownership group is deeply, deeply flawed and their problems will follow them wherever they try to take the team.

In a recent column, Ray Ratto called out Wolff and Fisher. Ratto essentially stated that the Oakland Coliseum isn't the problem. The A's owners and their weak marketing strategy are the problem. Here’s a Ratto excerpt:

In the meantime, the fan base is withering away because it is on to the other part of the problem – it knows when its emotional needs aren't being catered to, and though this team was better than any of the previous three, it still doesn't grip the fan's heart the way it should because the A's have become a way station. That won't change until the wait-for-the-ballpark philosophy is abandoned.

As the 43,000 fans on Let's Go Oakland's Facebook page partly proves, the vast majority of A's fans in the Bay Area want the team to stay in Oakland and build on its rich 43-year history with the city. After all, baseball is all about tradition and the A's winning tradition in Oakland is second only to some team called the New York Yankees. Wolff's apologists — they're dwindling, but there still are a few left — say that once Wolff gets a new ballpark, then all of the A's problems will be solved. They'll draw more fans and they'll win more games.

It's not that simple, of course. First of all, new ballparks aren’t some magic pill for attendance problems — just ask Washington, San Diego, and several other teams whose attendance plummeted after a very brief honeymoon. Plus, Wolff is on the record as saying that the team won't change its penny-pinching ways even after getting a new ballpark. If it's going to be "business as usual" after the A's get a new stadium — Wolff's words, not ours — then why does he need a new one?

In the meantime, A's fans all over the Bay Area are staying away from the Coliseum because Wolff and Fisher have turned off fans through their constant bashing of Oakland, through bad anti-fan-friendly ideas like tarping the third deck, and by making not so subtle threats to move the A's "out of California," even though there's really nowhere for them to go. But Ratto puts it best:

A's fans in Oakland keep waiting for the San Jose shoe to drop, having been told repeatedly that they, through their current location, stand in the way of progress. That's another excellent way to be convinced to love the team at a safe distance.

For the past five years, Wolff and Fisher have never really tried to sell tickets, nor have they consistently tried to put a winner on the field. If they do, then fans will come like they did earlier in the decade — when they averaged 27,000 fans per game at the same maligned Coliseum. But then Wolff won't have a rationale for moving. See, just like an unproven player who keeps disappointing when given a chance, Wolff and Fisher remain unproven as owners. They’ve never proved that they will work hard to draw fans and corporations, so why do we trust they will work hard — or even know how — to sell tickets and suites with a new stadium in the future? Truth is, we don’t.

Or, as Ratto wrote:

The A's current model isn't working for anyone, and that's the truth. They may be harder to hit, but at this pace, they're going to become harder to love.

Friday, September 24, 2010

KTRB for Sale

The A's radio flagship station situation was thrown into chaos yet again when KTRB-860 announced two weeks ago that it was laying off staff. Rumors flew that the station would stop broadcasting altogether. Those rumors proved to be untrue. What was true was that the station's cash-flow problems have been brewing for a while. According to Susan Slusser, A's fans were getting spotty reception at times this summer because the station wasn't even paying its diesel fuel bills.

So now that the dust has settled after a few weeks, here's what we know: No more polarizing political pundits on the "all-sports" station. A's games will continue to be broadcast through what's left of the regular season. Same with Chris Townsend's pregame and postgame shows.

More importantly, the station's owners, Jim and Harry Pappas, have turned the station over to Comerica Bank. The station is for sale again, and probably for a very good price.

Will Lew Wolff and John Fisher buy it and make it their very own KNBR?

That would be the smart play, and the best marketing decision they’ve made in years. So you have every reason to be skeptical that they'll actually do it.

How this affects A's broadcasts in 2011 or if they'll switch to yet another station, remains to be seen. Like a lot of parts about the A’s media strategy, there is more uncertainty and confusion at work than a coherent plan.

Just like with Wolff's circuitous, seven-year stadium search, we'll have to continue to wait and see.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Film Fest Caps Month of Oakland Festivals

The Oakland Underground Film Festival begins tonight, screening independent films all weekend at Linden Street Brewery near Jack London Square, and at Grand Lake Theater near Lake Merritt.

The Wall Street Journal last week did a roundup of Oakland hot spots, yet another national nod to Oakland's red hot entertainment scene. The four-day film festival will only add to that surging prestige. The entire film fest schedule can be viewed by clicking here.

This Sunday, Oakland's Rockridge district is hosting its Out & About Festival from 12 to 6 p.m. These are hardly the only festivals in Oakland — in fact, the past month has felt like a nonstop street party.

About 10 days ago, the 2nd annual Taste of Temescal festival featured nearly 25 restaurants and it sold out ahead of time, yet another sign that the North Oakland neighborhood is completely revitalized.

In mid-September, the Oakland Museum of California hosted the O Zone party, which drew thousands of people to recently renovated museum. Just a week before that, the first annual Oakland Pride Day was held Sept. 5 in downtown Oakland. It was the first LGBT Pride festival held in Oaktown since 2004. Organizers say they want to make it an annual thing.

On the last weekend of August, the annual Eat Real Festival garnered huge crowds at Jack London Square, just a hooked golf shot away from Oakland's proposed Jack London ballpark sites that would house a new A's ballpark. The same weekend, the 23rd annual Oakland Chinatown StreetFest was held in downtown Oakland streets.

Finally, the Art & Soul Festival last month brought tens of thousands to downtown on a sunny late August weekend, spotlighting classic Oakland musical talent like En Vogue and (old A's front office employee) MC Hammer.

A waterfront Oakland ballpark will perfectly fuse the city’s rich sports history with its hot 21st-century entertainment scene. We can't wait.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Killion on Wolff & MLB $$ Leaks

In the time since Ann Killion left The San Jose Mercury News for CSN Bay Area and Sports Illustrated, she has written some very critical columns about Lew Wolff and John Fisher.

Last week the South Bay columnist wrote another one about Wolff, this time featuring the headline: "A's could contend, but owners would rather move to San Jose."

Killion referred to the recent leak about the finances of several MLB teams. Those leaks were especially embarrassing for the Pirates and the Marlins – two franchises who had cried poor to get publicly financed stadiums built for them. But the leaks showed that the Pirates and Marlins, and their owners, have been dishonest about their finances.

Killion noted that Fisher and Wolff caught a break when the leaks did not include the Athletics' real financial figures. Killion wrote:

It would be a bit distasteful to have the details of their role as a baseball welfare recipient exposed, especially while Fisher's family has a fine art collection being shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ("Calder to Warhol," running through Sept. 19).

Why would it be distasteful for Wolff and Fisher? Killion explains:

Wolff and Fisher -- who have been eyeing San Jose since they bought the team in 2005 -- would like you to believe that they've done all they can to make it work in Oakland, though boosting their team's payroll and adding pieces that could help fuel a serious playoff run hasn't been among their strategies.

Killion's column echoes similar ones penned recently by longtime sportswriters Ray Ratto, Monte Poole, and Lowell Cohn. And Killion even took a shot at Billy Beane, who usually avoids the barbs of most sportswriters. Here's Killion's take:

The A's were in virtually the same position at the July trade deadline and clearly in need of some offensive help, yet ... General manager Billy Beane was happy to uncharacteristically sit on the sidelines and do nothing.

So, according to Killion, the A's owners are not willing to spend any money or time to improve some of the franchise's problems. As we've seen in other cities, new ballparks are no panaceas for revenue problems. Just as many new ballparks fail to solve a team's competition problems and money woes as there are successful ones. It all comes down to ownership. So, until Wolff and Fisher either change course and work hard and show fans that they care, or until they sell the team to an owner who will do those things, then A’s fans will continue to be stuck in limbo.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Market the A's Better, Part II

Last week, we started our series highlighting the many ideas that the A's owners could be doing -- but, sadly, have not done -- to market the team better to Bay Area baseball fans.

Here is Part II:

Foreign-language highlight shows: Take a simple version of your monthly "All A's" program that airs on CSN California and translate it to Cantonese or Mandarin and air it on the Bay Area's many Chinese-language TV channels. There are many predominantly Chinese neighborhoods around the Bay Area, and those residents could be contacted via their TVs with this idea. The Chinese-language program will be 30-minute advertisement reaching out to that community. If it proves popular, it could be expanded for other Asian languages. A Spanish-language version also should be done, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of Nor-Cal's Spanish-speaking residents. This can be simply accomplished. It might be as simple as finding one person to rewrite the English version into the foreign-language version and then narrating the script himself or herself. It can be done cheaply and quickly. Again, it's all about reaching out to previously untapped markets.

Set up small ticket-selling kiosks where there is high foot traffic: BART stations have a ton of wasted space. In San Francisco BART stations, Peet's Coffee and the Chronicle have set up spots to sell their wares. The A's should do the same, especially in the well-traveled BART stations along Oakland's Broadway Street, which have a lot of available room and open wall space for an enterprising business willing to think outside the advertising box. This can also be done at shopping malls in Walnut Creek or San Leandro, or at Oakland's Kaiser Center office building, which has thousands of employee foot traffic by Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland.

Send ticket salespersons to knock on business' doors in the East Bay: Not residential homes, but rather visit merchants during business hours to sell discounted tickets. It may sound outdated and intrusive, but the Giants did this in the '90s in San Francisco and it just helped plant a seed of thoughts in potential customers’ minds: "The team has a presence. They want to be here. They’re trying."

It’s the "small ball" version of business, but it all adds up.

Monday, September 13, 2010

S.F. Giants Now Own S.J. Giants

While the A's were taking two out of three from the Red Sox this weekend, the Giants announced yet another acquisition. Only it wasn't one of their umpteen new outfielders. This time it was an entire organization. The S.F. Giants now own a majority share of the San Jose Giants, their Single A team in the South Bay. Here's an excerpt from the Mercury News article:

Baer denied that the investment is a reaction to efforts by the A's to challenge their territorial rights to Santa Clara County. But if Major League Baseball's ownership overturns those rights and allows the A's to relocate there, the Giants' interest in the San Jose club would provide an additional legal barrier. Minor league clubs must be compensated when they are forced to move.

Baer said the Giants are studying the possibility of investing capital improvements in the city-owned Municipal Stadium, which opened in 1942.

"This is part of our minor league strategy and player development strategy," Baer said. "It's something we'll look at doing with our other minor league franchises. It makes sense to start in San Jose, where we have a 22-year history. San Jose has been a great story for us."

The move is open to debate: Are the Giants merely investing in their overall franchise, or are they looking to protect their territorial rights of Santa Clara County? Or both?

We'll have to see.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Piccinini to be 'Key' Warriors Owner

The Mercury News' Tim Kawakami blogged Friday that Bob Piccinini will be added as a "key guy" in the "core" Warriors' ownership group led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. Piccinini, longtime CEO of the Save Mart supermarket chain, also is part owner of the San Diego Padres.

You remember Piccinini. He was the main part of the ownership group led by Andy Dolich who tried to buy the A's in 1999.

The anti-Oakland crowd likes to say that that Dolich/Piccinini didn’t have the money to buy the A’s.

But that simply isn't true.

Piccinini's Modesto-based chain employs 25,000 people and grosses $5 billion per year.

Let's repeat that: Piccinini's company grosses $5 billion in revenue. Each year. And they say he didn't have the money?!

In fact, the Dolich/Piccinini group had plenty of money to pay the $122 million price tag to buy the A's. That group had a lot of heavy financial hitters, including George Zimmer (Men’s Wearhouse), William Dean Singleton (MediaNews owner & an AP Board Member), advertising giant Jeff Goodby (of Goodby Silverstein Partners), the Mugar family (wealthy Boston businessmen and philanthropists), A's legend Reggie Jackson, and several others. This very wealthy ownership group was vocally in support of keeping the A's in Oakland.

Piccinini also has owned several minor-league franchises in the Central Valley. For a guy who "didn’t have the money," Piccinini sure owns a lot of professional sports teams. And his money seems to be good enough for the NBA and MLB's Padres.

But for some reason, Piccinini's billions weren't good enough to buy the A's in '99. Chalk it up as yet another time that Oakland tried hard to keep the A's, but Schott and MLB ran interference instead.

Not to mention that MLB has never let a prospective owner's lack of money stop them from letting them buy a team. Just look at the McCourts in Los Angeles. They were so cash-strapped in 2004, the McCourts had to borrow $145 million from the guys they were buying the Dodgers from.

But we'll get into the McCourts in more detail next week.

Until then, let us be the first to congratulate Bob Piccinini. Even in a supporting role to Lacob and Guber, he's going to be great. We've met Piccinini before. He's smart, down-to-earth, kindly, and understated. Very Walter Haas-like. We're glad he finally owns a big chunk of an Oakland team — even if it came more than a decade after he should have been approved as an owner for the A's.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Oakland's Tech Industry is Growing

When billionaires like John Fisher and his front man Lew Wolff say that the A's need to move to another city, one reason they give is the East Bay's perceived lack of business and entrepreneurs. However, a recent Wall Street Journal article points out that Oakland has enjoyed a sharp upswing in new tech business. The article compares Oakland to San Francisco's South of Market area, which if you recall has a shiny new stadium to anchor it.

A quote from Joe Kennedy, CEO of Pandora, based in Oakland's Uptown neighborhood, further compares Oakland to SoMa, which in the late 1990s blossomed from a mostly industrial outpost to a bustling tech center. Like the SoMa of that era, Oakland has inexpensive office space, public transportation options, and many bars and restaurants.

All of this economic activity in Oakland is going on despite a struggling, recession-damaged national economy. The Wall Street Journal article also notes that younger talent is moving away from sterile office parks and into urban areas that are close to transit, housing, and nightlife. The article mentions that the formerly San Mateo-based Skytide, Inc. moved their operations to Oakland for this very reason.

As we have seen in other parts of the country and most noticeably across the Bay, urban entrepreneurship tends to grow together. Since March, Innovate Oakland has been hosting mixers at The Den bar, which is located in the renovated Fox Theater in Oakland. These gatherings at The Den have featured hundreds of growing tech entrepreneurs. If the A's were to stay in Oakland in a Jack London Square ballpark, then they would very close to this new downtown economic development. It would give the A's a solid foundation of young professionals filling up the nearby new stadium, continuing the solid growth of this fine city while also helping the A's.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When This Team Goes to Market

What would you do to improve how the A's owners market the franchise to Oakland and the Bay Area? Unfortunately, Lew Wolff and John Fisher do such a bad job of marketing the A's, there's nowhere to go but up.

So, we're taking the initiative ourselves. Here is Part One of what will be a recurring multi-part series on things the A's can do themselves to sell more tickets:

Improve the Media Strategy: Right now, the A's media strategy is a disaster and has been for years. Meanwhile, the Giants have had KNBR as its 50-thousand-watt mouthpiece promoting the team every day on the radio. What have Wolff and Fisher countered with? Making A's fans search each year for a new TV channel and radio station — often with weak signals — almost every single year, making it hard for even die-hard A's fans to follow their team on the dial. On TV, the A's games are currently broadcast on CSN California. And for radio, they’re on XTRA Sports 860 (KTRB), which sometimes airs polarizing political pundit Michael Savage before A's games while the Giants offer baseball talk (Imagine that?) with popular ex-A's pregame host Marty Lurie. It’s not even a close fight. Then they wonder why ratings are down.

Make Billy Beane a Visible Part of the Advertising: As long as he keeps trading away fan-favorite players, then Beane will continue to be the one consistent face of the franchise — for better or for worse. So, he and the A's should fully embrace that and use his image in the team's advertising and marketing. Instead, Beane in recent years has kept an oddly low profile. Why not use the same charisma and fame that prompted Michael Lewis' bestseller, Moneyball? The timing would be especially good with the Moneyball movie set to hit movie theaters in 2011.

Keep the Westside Club Restaurant Open After Day Games: Whenever I catch an A's day game at the Coliseum, I want to linger and enjoy the experience afterward by getting a hamburger and a beer while watching more baseball and highlights on TV. Instead, security hustles fans out of there like they’re unwanted house guests. Why not leave the Westside Club open for hours after an A’s game, and take the money that A’s fans want to spend for the chance to extend their baseball fix? A's fans are willing to overpay to enjoy the A's experience. Yet, the fans aren’t encouraged by management to spend their postgame money. Maybe they don't want to bother with these efforts because, either way, Wolff and Fisher pocket $30 million in welfare checks each year from other MLB owners.

Hold Cricket Sporting Matches at the Coliseum: In Oakland, Berkeley, and other East Bay cities such as Fremont and Union City, there are very large Indo-American and Pakistani-American populations. For these communities, the game of cricket is their biggest sporting passion, and many residents play in local cricket leagues. The A's should offer promotions where they let fans into the Coliseum early and hold cricket matches before A's games. Even if they're short exhibitions and not real matches, it's just one more way of reaching untapped markets and extending a hand to community groups that often aren’t courted by sports teams.

Screen Classic Baseball Movies at the Coliseum: Show baseball-related movies like Field of Dreams, or old family-friendly classics like Take Me Out to the Ballgame (Gene Kelly & Frank Sinatra), in the Coliseum's Westside Club or Eastside Club. It would be another source of revenue; fans will pay for popcorn, hot dogs, and other concessions, and there could be a ticket kiosk nearby waiting to sell A's tickets after the movie has gotten fans fired up about baseball. These events could be held before or after home games, or when the A's are on the road, or even during the off-season to remind fans that spring training is just around the corner.

None of this isn't meant to disparage the hard-working rank-and-file in the A's marketing department. Those employees do their best with a very limited budget and very little incentive from above to actually make it work in Oakland. That's why we’re offering our ideas and solutions.

Someone has to.

If you have ideas of your own, please email them to us at: We'll share them with our readers.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fear Strikes Out (Again)

Maybe Lew Wolff should become a regular on the TV show "MythBusters."

That's because Wolff has given many reasons for wanting to move the A's out of Oakland, but none of them hold up once you look at the underlying facts. Wolff keeps trotting out "reasons," but they're really just baseless myths.

Here's one of Wolff's favorites: "If we don't get a new stadium in [City X], then we'll have to move out of California."

Wolff said that repeatedly during the three years (2006-2009) when moving to Fremont was his focus. Wolff didn't get his ballpark in Fremont. And guess what? The A's still didn't move out of state. They are still playing in Oakland and Wolff hasn't even tried to make do on that passive threat to move the club out of the Bay Area.

Now, he's trying the same scare tactic in a different city. Wolff has been saying that if he can't move the A's to the South Bay then he’ll, you guessed it, have to move the team out of California. Surprisingly, some Wolff apologists are repeating that line ad nauseum, wringing their hands nervously, and telling Oakland fans that they should just go along with Wolff's scheme, or he’s going to move the team out of the Bay Area.

Forgive us if we don't believe Wolff. First of all, there's nowhere for the A's to move. This very deep economic recession has ensured that. But even in a good economy, all of the potential cities have fatal flaws that would kill any relocation attempts there. Check out the cities in question:

*Sacramento is fighting for its life just to build a new arena to keep the NBA's Kings, making a $500 million ballpark too pricey for the Central Valley city.

*Portland is undersized, too close to Seattle's market, and just lost the minor-league Portland Beavers after its own lengthy debate over a proposed new stadium deal that eventually fell through.

*Oklahoma City is the 45th biggest media market in the nation. The Bay Area is the 5th. So, let's see if Oklahoma City has enough staying power to support the NBA's Thunder through their current honeymoon period. There's already speculation that Kevin Durant might "pull a LeBron" and leave Oklahoma City for a big city team.

*Las Vegas is run by the billionaire casino owners, who don't want to forfeit the millions in annual revenue that would be lost by taking just one MLB game off the sports book board each day. (Under current law, if Las Vegas had its own baseball team, bettors would not be allowed to bet on any games in which that team played. No bets? No profit. At the end of the day, the house always wins.) With baseball's longtime (and not always successful) fight against its own gambling scandals, will any MLB Commissioner get in bed with Sin City and its mobbed-up mayor Oscar Goodman, a lawyer who defended Vegas gangsters and has plans to open a Mobster Museum near the Vegas Strip? Plus, a Las Vegas Sun article quoted Goodman as saying that an American League team recently told him that the Vegas market "is not big enough, our media market is not big enough and our economy is in such a state that they're not interested in considering us at this time."

*San Antonio is too close to Houston's Astros and the Rangers in the Dallas/Arlington area to add a third Texas team. Also, San Antonio's hot climate (along with Las Vegas' and Oklahoma City's) would make a retractable roof almost a necessity, adding at least another $100 million to construction costs.

Yet, with zero places to move, Wolff still has threatened to move the A's out of state if he doesn't get his way. He's just playing the fear-mongering game that most owners play when they want a new stadium. Or as Ray Ratto wrote about Wolff in 2008: "And to alienate the fan base with a threat that he cannot carry out for the foreseeable future is just plain daft."

The Bay Area today is the 5th biggest media market in the country and one of the wealthiest. It's predicted to get even better. Surveys have shown that in just 15 years, the Bay Area will leapfrog Philadelphia and Chicago in terms of population. So by the year 2025, the Bay Area will trail just New York and Los Angeles in terms of media market size.

After 43 seasons of Oakland and San Francisco sharing the Bay Area's baseball market, why would MLB leave this populous, thriving market just when it’s about to get even better? That doesn't make any sense. There’s another hint that the threat of making this area a one-team market isn’t true and is just a baseless threat. The hint? Lew Wolff suggested it. And when Wolff says something, it almost always isn’t true.

At best, Wolff is just offering another myth that can be easily busted.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Whine Harvest on the Field

Friday night's game against the Angels brought a familiar noise that we hear every year in August and September. The noise is the annual whining about the condition of the Oakland Coliseum field after a Raiders football game. Friday night's TV broadcast opened with camera shots of the portion of center field turf that's been discolored by the temporary football seats placed there for week.

Let's pause for a second to allow us to roll our eyes.

Why? Because the field complaint is like every other reason cited to justify the A's wanting to move: under factual scrutiny, it just doesn't hold up.

Look, we get it. The A’s need to get themselves a new ballpark, and there are two excellent Jack London Square sites from which to choose. But the field condition is hardly a reason for moving. Seriously, this is the 30th season that the A's and the Raiders have shared the Oakland Coliseum field. The first 14 seasons were from 1968-81, and the final 16 seasons after the Raiders moved back home have been from 1995-2010 (present).

You never heard the '70s A’s and Raiders complain about those fields while both teams were constantly winning divisions and several World Championships. But in the past 16 seasons, the A's owners — Steve Schott ('95-'05) and then Lew Wolff ('05-present) — haved glommed onto it, making what was once a non-issue into a key part of their Pity Party strategy of trying to convince the world that they’re being "held hostage" by the 45-year-old Coliseum.


Honestly, can you name a moment in those 30 seasons where the field condition after a Raiders game negatively affected the game or a player?

I can only think of one instance — Mark Kotsay in 2004 claimed that the post-football-game grass injured his knee when he dove on it. But guess what? Kotsay responded by playing even better than before. He caught fire at the plate in September, raising his season average to a career-high .314. If that counts as a negative effect, then I hope it happens every year. (Not to mention that Kotsay gets injured a lot and very well might have hurt himself on the play anyway, regardless of the turf's condition.)

Other than that minor instance? Zero, nada, bupkus.

How did the center-field grass affect the A's Friday night? It didn't. The A's rolled to an 8-0 win, improving their very good Coliseum home record. And the field had absolutely no bearing on the game. Just like just about every other Coliseum game played under the same conditions since 1968.