Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Dirty Dozen: A Recap of Wolff's Lies in AN Interview

The final part of Lew Wolff's interview with Athletics Nation concluded on Nov. 11.
Part I is here. Part II is here. And Part III is here.

Our sincere kudos to AN's Tyler Bleszinski for asking some tough questions. Unfortunately, Wolff's answers were filled with so many lies and factual inaccuracies we're still looking for the proper name for his 'performance.' Our favorite is, "Lew's Lie-a-palooza."

In the meantime, we divided our interview recap into a few categories better describing Wolff's falsehoods. Here's the recap:


1. "TB: ...How would you anticipate (a new ballpark) impacting team spending?
Wolff: Huge. We will be able to do so much we can't do right now. However, I still don't think we would be ... going after free agents on a large scale. The ideal for us ... (is) ... after we know that they’re pretty good, buy them out of arbitration years and get a couple of extra years and pay for that. And even that still gives the player another bite of the free agent apple if we can’t keep them. ...I don’t think we’d go after (Mark) Teixeira for seven years or eight years, although who knows? But we would be in a much better position to attract and retain the players we want."
(Part II)

Very misleading, Lew. Sure, it sounds exciting. Until you consider that Wolff's scenario is no different from how the A's have been doing business for about a decade. It's been Billy Beane's strategy for years to, as Wolff says, "buy young players out of their arbitration years and get a couple of extra years." John Hart of the Cleveland Indians was the first baseball GM to employ this strategy in the late '90s, and Beane followed suit in the early 2000s. So, when Wolff says a new stadium's impact will be "huge" and then he excitedly describes how it's going to be different, all he's doing is describing how the A's ALREADY do business at the Coliseum. Which makes sense because Wolff is already on record as saying that the A's approach will be "business as usual" once they get a new ballpark. Which Lew Wolff should we believe? Try the one that’s going to change little and spend less money.


2. "TB: Did the A's turn a profit in 2010?
Wolff: This year? We just about broke even.
TB: Is that a little over or a little under?
Wolff: I'm hoping it's over. ...We will be plus or minus around a million dollars one way or another ..."
(Part II)

Around a "million dollars, plus or minus?" Really, Lew? Forbes Magazine disagrees with you. Forbes said that last year the A's profit was a whopping $22.1 million. That’s quite a bit more than "just about broke even." And the 2010 attendance was slightly above last year's, so the A's 2010 operating income very likely was much closer to 2009's $22.1 million, rather than Wolff's "around a million dollars, plus or minus." Wolff's apologists might claim that Forbes is way off. But, consider this: Forbes is a conservative magazine with a long history of strong reporting credibility. In contrast, baseball owners like Wolff and Fisher have a history of lying about their finances. Just this season, the finances for a handful of MLB franchises were leaked to the media. The leaked reports showed that team owners were lying about their finances and exaggerating their money woes in the lead-up to a new stadium. Sound familiar?

3. "We need to be in a downtown because the infrastructure is there. In Fremont, we would have created our own downtown. In Oakland, we have real problems of transportation and off ramps, just one thing after another." (Part III)

This is one of Wolff's oddest answers. There's no way Wolff could have "created" the kind of century-old downtown infrastructure in Fremont that the Bay Area's largest cities, including Oakland, already possess. Yet he now says that's the kind of downtown he needs. As for Oakland’s “problems of transportation and off ramps,” we really don’t know what he’s referring to. The Coliseum complex is a model of public access – it’s centrally located in the Bay Area, adjacent to a major freeway, and it features every kind of public transit station (BART subway, Amtrak, ACE & Capitol Corridor trains, AC Transit buses) that the Bay Area offers, except a ferry stop.

Also, the proposed Victory Court site has excellent transit options (BART, Jack London ferry stop, the free Broadway Street shuttle, Amtrak, ACE & Capitol Corridor trains, AC Transit buses) and, next door on I-880, there are ongoing freeway/road improvements that are soon to be completed.

4. "Wolff: 2006, right. We didn't sell out any of those games in Oakland.
TB: Any of the ALCS games?
Wolff: If we did, you have to check on that I'm not exactly sure.
(Part II)

Wolff is lying here. Those Coliseum 2006 ALCS games were indeed sold out. The Coliseum capacity in 2006 was 34,077. A simple check of shows that Oakland attendance was 35,655 for Game 1 and 36,168 for Game 2. If that isn't a sellout, then I'm Matt Stairs.

5. "TB: Someone ... put up a story from 1998 from the Chronicle, where you were quoted as saying, "I wouldn't spend five minutes in any other city in California outside of San Jose."
Wolff: That was long before I was an owner, years ago. Yeah, we were trying to get the Giants to San Jose at that time. I was a businessperson in San Jose at that time so I was just trying to attract the Giants."
(Part II)

Wolff is lying here, too. The 1998 Chronicle article is 100 percent about the A's and their desire to move to the South Bay. It was written by then-Chronicle A's beat writer, Steve Kettman, and it completely flies in the face of Wolff's answer to the question. Secondly, it would have been impossible for Wolff to move the Giants to the South Bay in 1998, as Wolff asserts he was doing, because they had already broken ground at China Basin in 1997 for the building of Pacific Bell Park (now AT&T Park). The ballot initiative for the Giants' Pac Bell Park passed in 1996.

6. "When I arrived in Oakland ... the number one location for the new ballpark was ... the "uptown site" ... which was designated for residential ... thus the best opportunity was not available to us or the Hofmann-Schott ownership." (Part I)

Also not true, Lew. The Uptown site was on the table for the A's throughout part of 2001 and nearly all of 2002. Unfortunately, the A's showed zero public support for the Uptown site. A's co-owner Steve Schott and team president Mike Crowley appeared at City Council meetings in Santa Clara in 2001 to publicly ask Santa Clara officials about moving the A's there. But neither Schott nor Crowley — or any A's employee, for that matter — ever appeared at an Oakland City Council meeting for the Uptown site. Even when Oakland leaders invited HOK Architects and ballpark consultant Rick Horrow to a City Council meeting in 2002, Schott and the A's were a total no-show. If the A's had shown even the slightest interest in the Uptown site, they might have been playing there at 20th Street and Telegraph Avenue, right next to the Fox Theater, for decades to come. Just weeks after that 2002 public city meeting, which included a standing-room-only crowd of A's fans, Schott told the S.F. Chronicle that he still wanted to move to the A's to the South Bay and then he insulted Oakland officials by saying "Basically, they're 0 for 2" on stadium construction. With Uptown still on the table at that point, Schott didn't do anything to go after it. His apathy is right there in this Chronicle article.

7. "I tried to be nice to a couple of people - a guy with one of those signs, ‘We hate Lew,’ you know?" (Part III)

Actually, Lew, there's never been a sign at the Coliseum with that message. One outfield sign this year said, "Wolff Hates Oakland" – big difference from what you said. Other signs said, "Fisher=Greed" or "Wolff Lied, He Never Tried." No sign ever said, "We hate Lew."

8. “No public money” (Part I)

(NOTE: To be clear, we're not against a public-private solution for ballpark funding. What we don't like is Wolff's misrepresentation of the facts.)

Wolff keeps saying the A's ballpark will be "privately financed." But he’s just playing with semantics. What Wolff really means is he won’t use a city’s general fund. But, a city’s other public revenue he’s more than happy to grab. If Wolff really doesn’t plan to use public funds, then why are the financial woes of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency threatening to torpedo Wolff's ballpark deal? "Privately financed" should mean that a city's money won’t come into play, but Wolff wants it both ways here. Instead, he's banking on the Redevelopment Agency to purchase land parcels for him and then give them to him for free. As an alternative to that, he’s also proposing that San Jose city officials sell the city’s precious remaining land parcels in order to pay for HIS ballclub’s stadium deal. On closer inspection, that doesn’t really sound "privately financed." Again, structuring a deal like this isn't bad, but just don't call it "privately financed." It's not.

9. "And we are, I believe, the only team in baseball to share our ballpark with another professional sports team." (Part I)

Not true, Lew. The Miami Dolphins and the Florida Marlins currently share Sun Life Stadium (formerly Joe Robbie Stadium and Pro Player Park). The Marlins are slated to move into a park in 2012.

10. "We explored every possible opportunity to remain in Oakland ... then and only then did we alter our focus to Fremont." (Part I)

This is Wolff's biggest lie. In fact, Wolff's one and only attempt at an Oakland site was his impossibly complex plan north of the Oakland Coliseum in August 2005, which called for buying out and moving dozens and dozens of East Oakland business owners. If Wolff was sincere about that plan, then why did he spend just as much time chatting with Fremont officials about their proposal at that public Oakland meeting than he did with Oakland officials? Read this excerpt from a 2006 East Bay Express story:

According to a column by Mark Purdy in the San Jose Mercury News, Wolff was introduced to Cisco CEO John Chambers in the fall of 2005 by former A's co-owner Ken Hofmann. Wolff and Chambers quickly began discussing a deal for the 143-acre Cisco-Catellus property, to which Cisco still held the rights.

Yep, you read that right. The article says that Wolff was in talks with Fremont and Cisco in the FALL OF 2005 (emphasis mine) — that's just weeks after Wolff first proposed his hopelessly complex East Oakland plan. Then, he said that the East Oakland plan "must" include a new BART station, a requirement he never demanded from Fremont or San Jose. Also, when former Oakland Councilman Dick Spees offered to head a business-booster committee to help Wolff build community support for his East Oakland plan, Wolff stiff-armed Spees and said he didn't need any help.

Given all of this, do you still believe Wolff made an "exhaustive" effort in Oakland? We sure don’t.


11. "Every redevelopment agency, every city is having financial trouble." (Part I)

A classic Lew Wolff double-standard. When Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums approached Wolff to offer help on a new Oakland ballpark, Wolff said that Oakland "has other priorities" besides baseball. But when other cities he wants to move to have similar financial problems, suddenly those "priorities" are no big deal for Wolff.


12. "We spent close to $80 million (in Fremont) ... roughly half is ancillary real estate, of which now that $40 million is worth $20 million. ...And we've written off another $28 million to $35 million for environmental impact reports and hundreds of architectural costs. ...$25 million to $30 million (is) absolutely non-recoverable." (Part II)

Our reponse to that: Huh?!

Seriously, Wolff's response begs more questions than it answers. Sorry, even the most expensive EIRs and architectural renderings, retainer fees, and other miscellaneous costs don't add up to $25 million. So, what exactly was the "non-recoverable" sum of $25 to $30 million spent on, Lew? And, almost two years after you gave up on Fremont, you still can't determine whether you spent $28 million or $35 million (or some figure in between) on land-prep costs? Then again, what's an easy $7 million among friends? And supposing you're telling the truth, Lew, are we supposed to be impressed that you blew almost $30 million on a very flawed stadium plan that no one was excited about except you and the mayor of Fremont? Doesn't that call into question your judgment? If only you were so laid-back with player costs, then maybe you guys wouldn't trade every fan-favorite player that comes down the pike.

There are actually a handful of other Wolff interview responses that we'll delve into in the coming weeks. Until then, we have to ask, if Wolff is wildly incorrect about the small stuff, like playoff game attendance, what else isn't he telling us?


Ranchero said...

Well done! Thanks for such an exhaustive effort. I don't trust Wolff any further than I could throw him.

Baseball Oakland said...

Thanks for the comment, Ranchero. We'll be revisiting other parts of this interview in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned.

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