Thursday, May 26, 2011

Geren Reflects Owners' Poor Judgment

While A's owners have been blaming the Coliseum and Oakland for their failures, now we finally know that their manager, and the faulty judgment of the owners that hired him, are more to blame for scaring away free agents.

Lew Wolff, John Fisher and Billy Beane have publicly blamed the antiquated Oakland Coliseum for their inability to sign players like Marco Scutaro. Each A's co-owner then has used that notion to justify why they "need" to move the A's out of Oakland.

Well, their theory should be laid to rest after the big blowup between A's manager Bob Geren and reliever Brian Fuentes, along with ex-A's closer Huston Street criticizing Geren from Colorado. We don't think the Coliseum is chasing away free agents -- instead it's the A's bumbling manager who seems to be hated by most of his players.

Want proof? Look at the recent article by John Shea, the S.F. Chronicle's national baseball writer, who listed many of Geren's feuds with players and coaches after just four seasons as manager. Here's the short list, in Shea's words:

2007-In Geren's first season, "several players expressed dissatisfaction with Geren. He was called 'wishy-washy' by one player, 'oblivious' by another."

2007-After that season, three coaches were fired, including Bob Schaefer, who was quoted as saying, "I didn't want to come back anyway," and added that the staff's experience wasn't always put to the best use by Geren.

2008-Huston Street had to be separated from fighting Geren by shortstop Bobby Crosby after getting pulled from a game in Detroit. On Tuesday, Street texted this harsh message about Geren: "Bob was never good at communication ... it was a sentiment reflected in many conversations during the two years I spent in Oakland, and even recently when talking to guys after I left ... He was my least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports from age 6 to 27. (emphasis mine) I am very thankful to be in a place where I can trust my manager."

Players around the league all talk with each other and you can bet that the word has been out on Geren since at least 2007. It wouldn't be surprising if Geren was a negative factor in Scutaro's decision to choose Boston over Geren's A's when he was a free agent in early 2010.

2008-Mike Sweeney was furious with Geren for not allowing him to play more in a series in Kansas City. On a team flight, Sweeney had a blowup with Geren and was released by the A's shortly thereafter.

Shea listed other examples of Geren's poor people skills, questionable in-game strategy decisions, and his inability to do much but alienate the players he gets paid to motivate.

Also, don't forget the 2009 season, when Mychal Urban wrote that veterans Jason Giambi and Nomar Garciaparra also disliked Geren and that Giambi's vocal clubhouse criticism of Geren's managing ability led to the A's releasing him in mid-season.

In spite of all that, Beane and Wolff have let Geren manage this team for more than four(!!) seasons. Is that sound judgment?

Judgment used to be what Billy Beane's Oakland A's were known for. That's what Moneyball was all about. Funny how things change. I mean, the same guys (Beane & Wolff) who chose Bob Geren over Ron Washington, also chose Eric Chavez over Miguel Tejada and kept choosing Bobby Crosby over Marco Scutaro.

Now, they are telling you they want to choose another city over Oakland. The problem for Wolff and Beane is that that decision is a judgment call. And you know their track record on those.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hot Industries: Oakland Solar Companies & Restaurants

Oakland's corporate base is underrated and its financial strength is under-reported.

While the national economy alternates between sputtering relapses and recovery, the number of Oakland companies is growing and thriving, often in new, cutting-edge industries. Look no further than the solar-energy corporation, Sungevity, which is headquartered at Oakland's Jack London Square.

Sungevity and Lowe's, the nation's second-largest home retailer, have partnered to give the Oakland rooftop solar company more access to Middle America consumers.

You remember Sungevity. It's the corporation whose CEO, Michael Kennedy, praised Oakland and the company's Jack London Square location when they moved there last year.

In the meantime, Oakland's red-hot restaurant scene refuses to cool down. A new Cuban eatery named Cana Cafe just opened in the Grand Lake area to rave reviews.

Also, Rudy's Can't Fail Cafe, co-owned by Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt, is days away from opening on the ground floor of The Fox Theater in Oakland's Uptown neighborhood.

Also new to Uptown is Hawker Fare, which specializes in Asian food. Also, Hawker Fare is run by well-regarded Commis restaurant owner James Shyhabout.

And a new wine bar-restaurant called Toast Wine Lounge opened last month to standing-room-only crowds in Oakland's Rockridge district.

Every few months, there are a handful of new eateries opening in Oakland and the older one aren't going out of business, either. It's all proof that Oakland is an untapped market for the Bay Area's entertainment dollar.

And those with the business savvy and entrepreneurial vision to see it are making a healthy profit from Oakland residents' ever-growing disposable income.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chuck Reed's Letter

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed sent a letter to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig last week seeking a resolution to the stadium stalemate.

Reed mentions several things in the letter, but it's his opening sentence that stands out: "Even though a lot of time has passed, seven years to be exact, (emphasis mine) since the A's first considered moving to San Jose, we remain enthusiastic ..."

Wait, did he just say seven years? Like, starting in 2004? This flies in the face of what we have been told over and over about the depth of Lew's "efforts" in Oakland. It really begs the question regarding what was really going on when he started his career as a v.p of venue development under Steve Schott in 2003. We all know about Lew's South Bay leanings from as far back as 1998, which foretells why he was talking to San Jose when he was supposed to be "exclusively" talking to Oakland.

While Lew's longtime business partners were trying to bring baseball to San Jose, Wolff was proposing a stadium plan he deemed "feasible," but it would have required Oakland to fork over $300 million while putting down only $100 million of private money, an unrealistic plan in any California city, including San Jose. Another unrealistic proposal was his only large-scale Oakland stadium plan -- the impossibly complicated Coliseum-to-High Street plan.

And yet he claims that he tried in Oakland? Perhaps Larry Stone was right when he said that Lew Wolff would only make it look like he "tried" in Oakland, and then really try later to move to the South Bay as the "only" option.

We Oakland fans are called whiners and conspiracy theorists, and are accused of "living in the past" by a small but vocal minority of Wolff boosters. Yet, time and time again, the subject of when Wolff tried to move the A's to San Jose keeps getting brought up in the present, most recently in Reed's letter to Selig.

If the fact weren't clear before, Reed's letter takes care of that. Wolff was trying to move the A's to San Jose from the get-go. Thankfully, he hasn't been successful, and loyal Oakland baseball fans have not been left in the dust.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wolff Holding A's Franchise Back

The wealthy baseball official with ties to Wisconsin is dawdling and holding back the progress of the Oakland A's.

No, not Bud Selig. We're talking about Lew Wolff.

It's been more than two years since Wolff refused to sit down with Oakland officials to discuss new A's ballpark options. That's what prompted then-Mayor Ron Dellums and Councilwoman Jane Brunner to write Selig a letter asking him to work with them because Wolff wasn't. Selig responded by forming the three-person committee to study the A's ballpark situation and give recommendations. There hasn't been a ruling yet, and Wolff keeps whining about that to the press.

But Wolff should remember, he created this scenario. In short, the ballpark committee that's studying the A's situation was created solely because Wolff refused to even talk to Oakland's leaders, and he still refuses to do so.

So, more than two years later ... nothing. According to a S.F. Chronicle story, Wolff has been pining to move the A's since 1998. And 13 years later, Wolff stubbornly keeps pressing on with his pipe dream of moving the A's out of Oakland. He whines about how slow baseball is moving on the issue, but if he had worked with Oakland from the beginning, then he might already have his ballpark.

Instead, it's been nearly six years since Wolff even gave lip service (and little more) to his one and only Oakland ballpark plan -- the impossibly complicated Coliseum-to-High-Street proposal. Since then, Oakland officials and Let's Go Oakland have come up with at least two new waterfront ballpark sites, including the Victory Court ballpark plan, for which Oakland commissioned an environmental impact report last December.

Wolff? He still hasn't even uttered the words "Victory Court" in an interview, as he likes to pretend that he has "exhausted all options" in Oakland. But can Wolff credibly make that claim, when he hasn't even looked at the best available Oakland site, which was announced in December 2009? Can Wolff credibly say "all options have been exhausted" when he won't even say the words Victory Court in public?

Wolff is being very disingenuous when he says "no one has called me" to talk about Oakland sites. It's not true. As mentioned above, Dellums and other Oakland officials tried calling him in early 2009. Wolff refused to meet with them, saying he "wasn't interested in going over old ground."

So, why should Oakland call Wolff now? If Wolff was sincerely interested in "exhausting all options," he would have picked up the phone and talked to Oakland officials in 2009. Or he would have called Dellums in 2010, or contacted recently elected Mayor Jean Quan to tour Victory Court or the Jack London North site. At the very least, he could call Quan to see if anything has changed in the half-decade since he last talked about staying in Oakland. Instead, all Wolff wants to do is move the A's closer to his real estate holdings in the South Bay, which will further enrich Wolff, but damage the franchise and further alienate the core fan base.

While we're waiting for Selig to make a ruling, what's more important to remember is that we've all been waiting even longer for Wolff to make an honest effort to make it work in Oakland. Nearly eight years since Wolff first joined the A's, we're still waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

A's fans are getting more and more frustrated, but Wolff could make it all go away by working within his territory. Stubbornly, perhaps arrogantly, he hasn't.

There's a thin line between persistence and simply cutting off your nose to spite your face. Wolff is showing us where that line sits.