Saturday, February 27, 2010

On Football

When Oakland and Alameda County officials announced they are studying the idea of building a new football stadium next to the Coliseum to house the Raiders and, perhaps the 49ers, a question emerged: How might this affect the A's and their ballpark search? Across the blogosphere, some even asked:
A) Does this mean the city of Oakland is ignoring the A's? and
B) Why is the city buying land near the Coliseum when it hasn't bought land at Jack London Square for an A's ballpark?

The answers: A) No, the city of Oakland is not ignoring the A's. In fact, it's been trying hard to work with the A's on a new Oakland ballpark for the past 15 years. Unfortunately, A's owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher (and Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann before them) have stiff-armed Oakland officials for years due to their wandering eye for the South Bay

Two factors need to be present for the city to proceed on a project like this: 1) A Willing Partner and 2) Alternate Use. The A's owners have not been willing partners at all with Oakland since 1995, when the Haas family sold the A's. A willing partner is important because no city in this current economic climate can afford a massive public subsidy for a new stadium. You need to have a positive relationship and good dialogue with a team so that you can be assured the city's efforts and resources will not be wasted. Meanwhile, alternate use means that if no stadium were to be built on that piece of land, then you can find other development uses for the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funds a city intends to spend. How do these factors play into the locations for the A's? Let’s look at the Oakland sites to illustrate what I'm talking about.

Willing Partners: Both the Raiders and the 49ers have expressed interest in pursuing a shared stadium in Oakland at the Coliseum site. Raiders executive Amy Trask has enthusiastically praised the Coliseum and the city of Oakland as the best stadium spot in the Bay Area because of its easy auto and public transit access and its central location in the region. In fact, Jed York of the 49ers has shown far more public interest in Oakland than Wolff.

-Alternate Use: The Hegenberger corridor adjacent to the Coliseum has seen several positive developments and new additional business in recent years, including a new Toyota dealership, a shopping plaza featuring Wal-Mart and In-and-Out Burger and an on-again-off-again Airport Connector project. And there are plenty of other plans in the works. Oakland has purchased land around the area for redevelopment. If a stadium plan does not work out, the city would still be holding on to valuable properties that they can use for redevelopment tie-ins for what is already a zone on the verge of blossoming.

Willing Partners: Lew Wolff's stubborness regarding "being done with Oakland" has been well-documented. Why would Oakland start buying up land when Wolff refuses to do more than meet Mayor Dellums for coffee and tell the mayor "don’t break your pick on this one?"

-Alternate use: As the East Bay Express noted, there are active businesses there. While Oakland has the RDA resources and other locations available for these businesses to relocate, it makes no sense to start that process until some dialogue begins with the A's. Hence, the need to wait for Bud Selig's decision once MLB's committee submits their report

In short, if MLB gives Oakland the sign, and the A's finally come to the negotiating table, then A’s ballpark plans will match the progress the city’s made with the area's football teams. The good news for A's fans is that recent progress made on the football stadium plans illustrates that Oakland has the resources and political will to proceed with such projects, provided some cooperation from the ball club is there.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Baseball's Forgotten Pioneer

Decades before pro baseball was officially integrated, an Oakland Oaks player became the first to break baseball's color barrier in 1916. His name was Jimmy Claxton and he was African-American. Claxton had to rely on some chicanery to get around baseball's blatantly racist rules of that era, posing as a Native American in his brief, historical stint as an Oakland Oak. Read all about it in Garth Kimball's excellent article on our Baseball Oakland History page, or by clicking here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Go, A's!

Maybe it's been the unseasonably sunny, warm weather. Or maybe it's just the baseball fan's biological clock ticking. Whatever the reason, we're increasingly in the need of an Oakland baseball fix. So, with pitchers and catchers ready report to Arizona in a matter of days, we here at Baseball Oakland can't wait for the 2010 season to start.

Yeah, there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding Oakland's Athletics and the team's stadium situation. But even with all that uncertainty, it's nice to know we can still go to the Oakland Coliseum and rely on some things that will never change: the pitchers' mound is still 60 feet 6 inches from home plate, the flag-waving fans in the outfield bleachers are still the most loyal and knowledgeable in the country and Jack Cust will drop a routine fly ball at least once a month. Just kidding on that last one. Kind of.

The bottom line is we're fired up for another Oakland A's season. And we know you are, too. We'll be spending much of February and March buying A's tickets to enjoy games at the Coliseum. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More on the A's letting Marty Lurie go

Columnist Lowell Cohn wrote a column this week on Marty Lurie leaving the A's pre-game show and heading to KNBR to do similar duties for the Giants. It appears that KTRB, the A's home station, bumped Lurie in favor of Michael Savage, a polarizing and very controversial political talk show host. Whether you love Savage or hate him, no matter what your political views are, replacing Lurie with Savage for a baseball pre-game show is a head-scratcher, to say the least.

According to Cohn, the A's front office did little to retain Lurie, who was tired of going through uncertainty every offseason stemming from the A's frequently changing home radio stations. When KTRB failed to fully commit to Lurie this offseason, the A's told Lurie they wanted him to stay but that there is little they could do about it. Cohn's response to that is: "The A’s appeared to have no clout with the station, which strikes me as strange and disappointing."

Here at Baseball Oakland, we are big Marty Lurie fans. So, we're deeply disappointed that Lurie will not be returning to A's broadcasts. As Cohn wrote, Lurie's show cost the A's nothing. He sold his own advertising, booked his own guests and negotiated his own deal with the station. Couple that with his sterling reputation as a baseball man, and it boggles the mind why the A's wouldn't go to bat for him with KTRB.

Maybe it's just as simple as Cohn wrote: "I don’t believe the A’s understand what a treasure Marty is."

Lurie is the third popular radio personality that the A's have lost in the past 15 years. In October 1995, A's owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann let legendary announcer Lon Simmons go because they didn't want to pay his salary. Simmons was later given the Ford Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Then following the 2003 season, Schott and Hofmann didn't retain Greg Papa -- a popular, well-respected A's announcer. Papa, who does Oakland Raiders play-by-play and formerly did Warriors play-by-play, recently was given the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association State Award for sportscasters for the second year in a row.

Both Simmons and Papa eventually were hired by the San Francisco Giants after the A's front office let them go. Now, the same has happened with Lurie. A sports franchise's broadcast team is a big part of how a ballclub is marketed. We wish that the ownership of our favorite team better understood that. Until they do, our losses will continue to be the rival Giants' gains.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

No FanFest? Steward criticizes Wolff and Fisher

Carl Steward of the MediaNews chain (Oakland Tribune/San Jose Mercury News) recently gave his two cents regarding the A's owners' decision to cancel the popular annual FanFest event for the second year in a row. Here's what Steward wrote in his newspaper's Feb. 6, 2010, edition:

"*Rain or shine, the Giants expect a huge crowd for their fanfest at AT&T Park today. The A's? They're expecting a huge echo after canceling their once-popular fanfest for a second straight season.

*The A's will tell you their incredibly lame Fan Appreciation Tailgate, this year slated for April 3 before a Bay Bridge Series game, serves as their new fanfest. Right, nothing like getting people excited about baseball at the last minute.

*Here's the real truth: The demise of the A's fanfest — attended by 12,500 people two years ago, producing 35,000 ticket sales and significant financial contributions to charity — is just another clear sign the Lew Wolff/John Fisher ownership not only is ignoring the East Bay fan base but seeks to discourage it. You pick your own appropriate word, here's mine: reprehensible."

While FanFest is nothing more than a marketing tool, it offered A's fans a chance to escape from the winter doldrums and get excited about sunshine and baseball. It made sense from a business perspective, too. Lines of fans wanting to purchase single-game tickets always snaked around the corner. In 2006, Opening Night was pretty much sold out by the end of the day. It also gave a boost to season ticket sales ... and A's sales reps would accompany prospective season ticket buyers to where their seats could be. Merchandise sales would also get a strong boost, especially with the opportunity for fans to buy rare game-used merchandise. One cannot also ignore the fan-friendly things like clubhouse tours, autograph sessions, Q&As between players and fans and games for kids.

Most of all, FanFest never cost the A's anything and they had more to lose than gain by ending it. It makes one wonder why an organization would ever cancel such an event.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Myths about success

I'm in favor of building a new A's ballpark in Oakland for a lot of reasons. A new ballpark will help economically redevelop the Oakland waterfront and ensure that the A's stay in the great city of Oakland -- a nice reward for loyal East Bay fans who've had to deal with owner-fueled uncertainty and threats to move for the past 15 years. And A's fans would passionately fill a new Oakland stadium if owners committed to staying put.

However, I'm not of the opinion that a new stadium by itself will make the A’s a better team or more competitive over the long term. A lot of fans and pundits claim that the A's need to move into a new stadium as soon as possible, no matter where it's located, so the A's can start competing with the big boys. Unfortunately for them, this is a myth. There is just no evidence to support this and anyone who is proposing that is misinformed or simply posturing.

Case in point: Look around MLB and see what has happened with teams that had new stadiums built in the past 20 years. Large crowds for the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians in the 1990s still didn't allow those proud franchises to keep many of their free agents. Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez led the Indians to the 1997 World Series. When they became free agents, did the success of Cleveland's new Jacobs Field keep them? Nope. They were gone. Thome to the Phillies, and Ramirez to Boston. Likewise, Mike Mussina was a star Orioles pitcher who played in front of packed houses when Baltimore's Camden Yards routinely drew more than 3 million fans per year. When Mussina became a free agent, he stayed with the O's, right? Wrong. Mussina instead signed with the New York Yankees, who always pull in the most TV money, thanks to the Big Apple's lucrative TV market. It got even worse for Indians and Orioles fans. Recently, both teams have had losing records with attendances in the bottom half of MLB.

There are plenty of other examples. Seattle, Texas and Arizona -- all of whom built new ballparks in the '90s -- have had similar ups and downs at the box office. While Detroit and Milwaukee have had some recent success, each of them sputtered for a few years beforehand. In Detroit’s case, the Tigers drew only 1.3 million fans a mere three years after their new stadium was built. Likewise, the Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres have yet to see any sort of sustained success after moving into new digs.

I believe only two things are certain regarding the A's situation: 1) Owners will make millions of dollars no matter where the new park is located. 2) However, an Oakland stadium would be successful because I believe A's fans all over Northern California are most excited to support a ballpark built at Oakland's Jack London Square waterfront over any other location. What's less certain is whether or not the current A's owners would be willing to spend this new revenue stream on keeping their players. If Mussina, Thome and Manny couldn't be kept at their successful new parks, and if Safeco Field didn't allow Seattle to keep Griffey Jr. and A-Rod, then there are no guarantees anywhere, no matter how popular the stadium.

A myth, regardless of how many times it's repeated, is still a myth.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Selig's decision coming on Monday?

According to Robert Gammon of the East Bay Express, Bud Selig on Monday will deliver his ruling on the A's situation. This could be the day we've all been waiting for, or a day of dread. Whatever happens, I believe that Oakland officials have done an excellent job and put a very strong foot forward. They have identified two new and very viable ballpark sites, Jack London North and Victory Court, which are very accessible to public transit, including BART, ferry boats, Amtrak and ACE/Capitol Corridor trains.

If Selig gives the green light, the next part of Oakland's process would involve negotiations with the A's, an opportunity that A's owners since 1995 -- first Steve Schott, and then Lew Wolff -- have never given Oakland. After more than nine months of work and communication between the city of Oakland and MLB officials, I believe that Oakland has made a lot more progress than most people think.

I look forward to what happens on Monday and hope for the best ... Lets go, Oakland.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lurie is now a Giant and the A's are shrinking

The continued dwindling of the Athletics was never more evident than the recent announcement that KNBR is adding Marty Lurie to its Giants pre- and post-game shows. KNBR states, " ... baseball aficionado, Marty Lurie, comes across the bay..." Meanwhile, the A's lose another inimitable baseball voice.

This recent head scratcher by the A's continues to broadcast the message of ownership apathy towards A's fans. Either they don't know what the hell they are doing or they just don't give a damn. All the while, the A's are continuing to lessen their significance in the region. I always enjoyed Marty's postgame show at Fenton's Creamery, Crogan's or the Warehouse. It was distinctly Oakland. Maybe that is why the A's cancelled it. Fans were able to file out of the Coliseum and head into the neighborhoods of Oakland in time to discuss baseball with Marty. It was special. It turned Fenton's into a postgame spot, which it still is. An Oakland Athletics flag would hang outside to indicate it was game day, and anyone in Oakland's green-and-gold colors would receive a discount. This was Oakland baseball and this is what Marty brought to us. It is hard to imagine him with the orange and black.

I first ran into Marty Lurie at a Pacific Coast League reunion at the Oakland Museum a few years. He had his microphone and tape recorder in hand while interviewing an old Oakland Oak ballplayer. I just stood back and watched in quiet admiration. You could see the child-like enthusiasm and the passion of the game in his face during the interview. You can tell he is doing something he loves. He does it very well. Before he started his radio career, Marty was an attorney. But I could have seen him working as a newspaper man. The questions he asks are insightful, poignant and intelligent. His A's show was a perfect baseball companion to Bill King's game calling. We were spoiled. We are going to miss you Marty. Thank you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lowell Cohn: Wolff is "fishy"

The Press Democrat's Lowell Cohn wrote a strongly worded column last week about Lew Wolff and Billy Beane. Cohn described Wolff's A's as running a "fishy operation."

Cohn went further: " ...they have insulted their fans and the city of Oakland the last few years, and none of that was necessary or smart or polite."

Then Cohn, a longtime Bay Area sportswriter, took Wolff to task for turning off loyal A's fans. Cohn wrote:

"When Uncle Lew bought into the A’s in 2005 ... the A’s had OK attendance. That first season they drew more than 2,100,000 paying customers, 19th in the majors. That’s almost 26,000 per game. How have the A’s done in the attendance department under Uncle Lew’s stewardship? Last season, they drew 1,408,783 suckers to watch their Triple-A A’s. That was dead last in the majors at just over 17,000 a game. So, in five Uncle-Lew seasons the A’s attendance has declined — plummeted, nosedived — 700,000 a year. This is what I mean by fishy, as in it really stinks, and it’s no way to run a business."

Next, Cohn said that other sportswriters at the recent A's Media Day were puzzled by comments Beane made to Peter Gammons about his failure to sign Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre:

" ...from now on Beane should be fined five bucks every time he says 'small-market team' — and they have the worst attendance in baseball and the atmosphere at the Coliseum is dreary. But wait, we already saw their attendance wasn’t so dismal just five years ago. Beane’s quote is disingenuous because it ignores the role A’s ownership has played in making the A’s a team no one wants to play for. Uncle Lew has made watching games at the Coliseum so unpleasant even loyal fans stay away. They can’t stand the rinky-dink product on the field or the loneliness in the stands. Then Uncle Lew turns around and says he needs a new ballpark because no one comes to see the A’s in Oakland. That’s not playing fair."

Strong words. Yet, judging from the comments on the Let's Go Oakland Facebook page, seems like a lot of A's fans agree with Cohn.