Last week was a busy one, so we're a little tardy with our analysis of Parts 2-5 of Lew Wolff's interview with Marine Layer. All five parts of the interview can be found at NewBallpark.org.
Check out our take on Wolff's comments in Part 1 of the interview by clicking here.
Why do we analyze Wolff's interviews? Put simply, we believe Wolff would ruin the franchise by moving the A's out of Oakland. And if Wolff is using false pretenses to justify the move, then, well, he needs to be called on it.
We found 12 Wolff quotes in Part 1 that were either totally false or were opinions that we strongly disagree with because they lacked basic factual support.
Below, we continue listing Wolff's factual inaccuracies throughout the rest of the sitdown. Here's our take on Wolff's comments in Parts 2-5:
In Part 2, Wolff said:
We can go and lose $30 million a year like the Haas family was doing but we're not gonna do that.
That's false. To his credit, Marine Layer made space in the published interview to correct Wolff, noting that the Haas family, in fact, lost $6 to $10 million per year during their last few years as owner. That's just a fraction of what Wolff tried make readers believe. (It's also just a fraction of what the Peter Magowan-led Giants lost in San Francisco in the years before AT&T Park was built.)
In fat, according to MLB's Blue Ribbon Committee report from 2000, the Giants averaged $20 million losses and lost about $97 million total from 1995-1999. It's not like Magowan and Baer were worried about it, either. They looked at it like an investment.
Perhaps Wolff's comment was an honest mistake. But Wolff has a disturbing pattern of throwing out wildly inaccurate numbers as a supporting argument on why he "has to move" the A's. Whether you call it a mistake, normal hyperbole or a blatant lie, there is undeniably a pattern and every time Wolff does it (and he's done it a lot), it reminds us why he has such little credibility with fans and a usually laid-back Bay Area sports media that has turned on him.
Wolff's erroneous "$30 million loss" claim reminds us of last year's interview with Athletics Nation, in which Wolff tried to claim that the A's didn't sell out their 2006 ALCS home games. But that was another false claim by Wolff: A simple check of Retrosheet.org showed that Coliseum attendance for Game 1 and Game 2, the only ALCS games played in Oakland, were indeed sold out.
What may look like an isolated honest mistake starts to pile up into a long list of inaccuracies that would misinform the public if they were not fact-checked.
When asked about who has it worse on the ballpark front, Wolff or Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, Wolff said:
I've decided that mine is worse than his.
Really?! Yes, the Oakland Coliseum has its flaws and it needs to be replaced with a new Oakland ballpark. But ... worse than Tropicana Field? Really?! The Coliseum, the host of six World Series in an 18-year period, is worse than Tropicana Field, a sterile dome with artificial turf that was outdated five minutes after the Rays' first home game. Really?! The Coliseum, centrally located in the Bay Area with every public transit amenity except a ferry stop, is worse than Tropicana Field, the dome that has a roof and catwalks hit often enough by fly balls that Bob Melvin said it had "pinball machine-type stuff (that) is a little bit of an issue ..." Really?! Tropicana Field is better than the home of Catfish's perfect game, Vida's no-hitter, Reggie's eight Oakland seasons, Rickey's stolen base record, Braden's perfect game, BillyBall and four World Series winners? Really?! ... Really?! (With apologies to Seth Meyers.)
In Part 3, Wolff compared the Giants and A's to rival burger joints, saying:
(If) your SF McDonald's is worth $10 million and the Oakland McDonald's is worth $100,000.
Wolff's analogy doesn't pass the smell test because Wolff himself is the biggest reason why his "McDonald's" is worth so much less than San Francisco's. For many years now, Wolff (and Schott/Hofmann before him) have told all his customers that his "McDonald's" has terrible food, is in the wrong location and they shouldn't bother coming because they're going to be gone soon. And even when his customers ignore his warnings and come to his "McDonald's" he rewards them with terrible customer service. If Wolff, John Fisher and Mike Crowley actually worked on improving their "McDonald's" or on finding a new location within their home city, then it would be worth nearly as San Francisco's "McDonald's."
I look at Dodger Stadium and it looks almost empty sometimes.
Yes, this is the damage that can be done to once-great franchises when terrible owners like the McCourts are allowed to buy a team. In L.A., the owners are rightly blamed for the franchise's sorry state. Yet, in Oakland, Wolff and his apologists don't think he should take any blame for the sorry state of the A's and how much it has declined on Wolff's watch. For some reason, Wolff blames the stadium and the city for his woes, but he blames McCourt the owner for the Dodgers' woes. That's a clear double standard.
First, I looked at the Coliseum, because there was nothing downtown ... This is where I read the older (sports) writers, they're living in the past. A lot has changed for Oakland since then.
Yes, someone here is living in the past, but it's Wolff, not the sportswriters. Oakland's downtown once was struggling and moribund. But in recent years, it has enjoyed a renaissance and now is thriving with dozens of new restaurants, bars, cafes, and new businesses. Wolff is the one with the misperception based on outdated data, and it would be very sad if A's fans were punished by having the franchise make a bad business decision that hurts the franchise because of a misperception of Wolff's, who hasn't adjusted his regional view to accurately reflect Oakland's new, very positive changes.
Wolff also said:
The last year the Haases owned the team they had the highest payroll in baseball and drew 1.2 million.
This is misleading. What Wolff doesn't tell you is that this was 1994, a strike-shortened season. The A's only had 56 home games that year. (Note: To his credit, Marine Layer provided the proper factual context with an editor's note on his website.) Attendance numbers in 1994, and a few years thereafter, were down for EVERY team in MLB. Attendance got especially bad for teams whose new owners immediately started talking about moving the once-thriving franchise, like Schott did when he took over the A's in November, 1995.
Aside from the market being -- Oakland used to have several major corporations, doesn't have them any longer.
This is false, on many levels. First, the new Oakland has a possible tech-company renaissance bubbling, according to reporter Blanca Torres of the San Francisco Business Times. Last month, Torres wrote: "Oakland is ... slowly becoming (a tech company hub) thanks to firms like Pandora, Sungevity, Lucid Design Group, Ask.com, Xantrion, Bright Source Energy, Skytide Inc., Livescribe .." Couple them with old-school corporations like Clorox and Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, and Oakland has a more-than-solid corporate base that several other MLB cities would love to have.
Given that fact, it's weird that Wolff often feels the need to publicly insult his team's home city on this issue. It's even weirder that he's so inaccurate about it. Even stranger is that he then seems perplexed why the local media (again, usually a mild, forgiving bunch compared to other regions) criticizes him. Who else besides Wolff thinks you can insult your customers' home town with comments that are also wildly false, and not face some heat about it? Also, Wolff likes to mention the corporate-base issue about Oakland -- and only Oakland -- as if there's a wall around the city. For example, San Francisco clearly can't support the Giants by itself -- otherwise, the Giants wouldn't be fighting to keep other cities and counties in its territory. They draw their annual 3 million fans (and corporations) from ALL over the Bay Area, not just San Francisco. The Oakland A's could do the same if they were run properly. But Wolff pretends to believe that by building a new park in Oakland, he will somehow be forced to draw fans and corporations from only Oakland. Tell that to Oracle (of Oracle Arena) or McAfee, Network Associates or O.co -- all corporations from non-East Bay cities that happily have given their money and name to Oakland sports facilities.
Wolff's comments above, and the point he wants to make with them, are not even close to being true. But Wolff keeps saying them. And then he wonders why people call him a liar.
Wolff also said:
Other owners haven't been able to do anything in Oakland (build stadia), either. We're not the only one.
That's false. In the 1980s, Oakland stadium officials successfully worked with the Haas family to add luxury boxes to the Coliseum for A's games. (Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson had a similar deal set with Al Davis in 1980, which would have kept the Raiders in Oakland, but NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, letting his rivalry with Davis get the best of him, illegally interfered with the negotiations. The NFL had to write Davis a court-ordered $17 million check in the mid-1980s after Davis' lawyers proved Rozelle's interference. But that's another blog for another day.)
Since 1995, when Schott-Hofmann bought the A's from the Haases, Oakland officials have tried hard to work with the A's owners. But Schott-Hofmann -- and then Wolff and John Fisher after them -- have done nothing but talk about moving to the South Bay, while refusing to work sincerely with Oakland and Alameda County officials. Want proof? Check out our timeline on A's ownership actions since 1995.
Wolff said about trying to get the territorial rights to Santa Clara County from the Giants:
I think everything can be settled. But you can't do it if someone's not willing to cooperate.
Painfully ironic, because that sentence also explains the frustration most A's fans feel about Wolff and his stubborn refusal to work with Oakland city officials on a new Jack London Square ballpark.
In Part 4, Wolff said:
I think our marketing group may be one of the best in baseball because they have such a challenge. It's fun to be at the Coliseum, but I don't know (beyond that). We try everything.
First, let's focus on the positive. We agree on one thing: A few promotions this year have been fun and an improvement on past efforts. The recent true doubleheader and MC Hammer Bobblehead/'80s Day were creative promotions that had fans buzzing the next day. And they've copied a few of other teams' good ideas, such as community events like "Irish Heritage Night," etc. Let's give credit where credit is due. Secondly, we bet the A's marketing group works very hard.
Now, the cold reality: Promotions are different from a marketing plan. Thus, the A's overall marketing is and has been very bad for many years. But again, that falls on ownership, not necessarily the marketing department rank-and-file. Look at all the factors that fall under Marketing: advertising budgets, advertising message, community involvement, TV/radio announcers, ability to get local newspapers and TV news to cover your ball players for human interest stories, game promotions (see, it's just one part of many), having a year-round radio home on the dial, among others. Wolff is right about one thing: His marketing team has a big challenge, but it's not because of the Coliseum or Oakland. The biggest challenge they face comes from the owners, who have put a losing product on the field for half a decade, discouragde them from investing in the team by always talking about moving the franchise, and always give fans terrible customer service once they get to the Coliseum.
Wolff said about his famous general manager:
Billy has kept us competitive, and he doesn't get as much credit as he should, but that leaves us in the middle of the draft. So where other teams get higher picks --
Beane doesn't get enough credit? C'mon, he has enjoyed the praise of a best-selling book (and now a movie with him played by Brad Pitt) about him that made him an internationally known name, and maximized his role in the A's success from 2000-2002, while minimizing a lot of other A's employees who contributed to it: names like Sandy Alderson, Art Howe, Rick Peterson, Grady Fuson, J.P. Ricciardi, and many others. He still enjoys all that credit, despite 2011 being the team's 5th consecutive non-winning season.
Wolff's second point about the A's draft slot placement shows he doesn't understand the unpredictable nature of drafting and evaluating talent in MLB. Where you draft in the first round (early, middle or late) shouldn't kill your player personnel efforts -- a draft is judged by your overall annual haul of young players. Tim Hudson, the A's best starting pitcher since Dave Stewart, for instance, was a 6th round pick in '97. Nick Swisher, the 16th pick of the 2002, was very good A's pick right in the middle of the first round. That middle-round placement didn't stop Swisher from becoming an Oakland fan favorite and a good pro player (who Billy Beane traded away, unfortunately).
I can't keep asking Billy and his guys to (deal with being a low-revenue, low-payroll team).
Wolff doesn't have to. He does have other options. He could work hard for the first time since becoming owner to actually raise revenue (and payroll) for his team. He also could get his front office to stop driving down attendance by complaining about the Coliseum; to market the team better and not let great announcers get away like Greg Papa, Marty Lurie and Lon Simmons did; to instead keep all the concession stands open so fans don't miss three innings by waiting in line forever after walking halfway around the ballpark just to get a hot dog and a drink. That's the short list of things he can do. There are others.
Also, Wolff is on record as saying that, even after building a new ballpark, he plans to keep the payroll as low as possible. In a 2007 article in a Florida newspaper, Wolff said: "It will be business as usual. We have a staff, led by [GM] Billy Beane, that is very, very bottom-line oriented. Billy loves doing it that way. Frankly, it's more fun."
Wolff talked about the front office's failures at free agency:
And we sat down with Adrian Beltre ... and we offered somewhere over $70 million ... Scott (Boras) said, "No he's gonna get $90 million." ... We left and thought, "That's not what he's getting." And then Texas paid him.
Well, this is a head-scratcher because this story actually supports Wolff's critics' point of view about him. A free agent ball player took an offer that was $20 million higher than Wolff's and Beane's offer. It's the oldest sports business story in the book.
Wolff also blamed Oakland and the Coliseum for why Lance Berkman spurned them for a slightly less lucrative deal with St. Louis. But players spurn teams all the time. Last off-season, Cliff Lee took less money to play for the Phils instead of the Yankees. Years ago, Andy Pettite and Roger Clemens rejected the Yankees to play in their hometown of Houston together.
Plus, Wolff doesn't mention that A's slugger Josh Willingham has repeatedly said he would like to sign a long-term deal to stay in Oakland with the A's. Or that the A's were able to sign free agents like Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour. Or that former A's -- from Tejada to Giambi to Chavez to Hudson to Zito -- all said they wanted to stay in Oakland rather than leave or be traded.
Also, Oakland Tribune beat reporter Joe Stiglich quoted player agents in January saying that Beane's complaints about the Coliseum were "overblown." Stiglich quoted an agent who said about the players: "What is frustrating for them is that none of them believe that they can win (with the A's)."
Wolff said about the A's long-struggling offense:
We're starting to look at our air-conditioning (the marine layer). Why do they hit .280 (somewhere else) and then come here (and not hit)?
See the pattern here? There's never any accountability for their own decisions. It's always someone else's fault. Funny, the cool air around the Coliseum didn't keep the A's from hitting and winning from 2000-2003.
Going into 2007, after we got to the ALCS ... we had less season ticket sales going into 2007 (than in 2006). How is that possible
Here's why: First and foremost, Wolff spent all of 2006 and the off-season before 2007 constantly talking about his desire to move to Fremont. The A's fan base, many of whom still bear the scars of the Raiders leaving in 1982, were turned off by the talk. That's on Wolff, not the fans. Instead of building on the great 2006 season and building on the great winning history the A's have in Oakland, Wolff kicked dirt in the fans' faces by talking about damaging that history with talk of franchise relocation, which is especially painful for Oaklanders.
Also, in 2006 and 2007, Wolff raised ticket prices AND tarped off the third deck. We know fans hated the tarps from the beginning because they were quoted saying as much in this S.F. Chronicle article.
In 1999, when the A's finally contended for a playoff spot for the first time in seven seasons, they enjoyed a bump of nearly 300,000 fans in attendance. In 2000, they won the AL West and enjoyed another bump of nearly 400,000 fans, and drew more than 2.1 million fans. Why did the A's draw so well then, but not for Wolff in 2007? It's because Wolff was making major P.R. mistakes, as listed above.
Wolff talked about the territorial rights the Giants own in the South Bay:
Santa Clara County was nobody's territory at one point
Yes, but that has changed. Wolff seems to have trouble understanding and coming to terms with a very basic economic principle: ownership. Like this concept: The San Francisco Giants own the territorial rights to Santa Clara County and have done so for 20 years because A's owner Walter Haas gave it to them. End of story. The organization once owned it. Now it does not. Furthermore, when Wolff and John Fisher bought the A's in 2005, they knew which territories the A's did and did not own. For some reason, Wolff and Fisher seem to have a sense of entitlement about an issue that is pretty cut-and-dry.
Likewise, the Peralta family 160 years ago owned almost the entire East Bay. Today, they own very little of it. Why? Because a variety of forces (lawsuits, the government, squatters, debt) forced them to sell most of it. The Peraltas once owned almost 45,000 acres in the Bay Area. Now they don't.
Pretty simple, right?
Now, what if a Peralta descendant knocked on your door tomorrow and said, "I want your house and property and, even though I'm a billionaire, I'm going to give you nothing for it because, well, it used to be ours and I just really, really want it." What would you tell that Peralta family member and how many F-bombs would you drop during the conversation?
It'd be a ridiculous request, right? Yet, it's almost the exact same demand that Wolff and Fisher are making in regards to ownership of the Santa Clara County territory.
When comparing A's-Giants to other two-team markets, Wolff said:
And we're further from the other team than any other.
This is not true. The Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles have that claim.
(Again, to his credit, Marine Layer noted the factual correction on his website.)
In Part 5, when comparing the San Jose site to Oakland's, Wolff said:
San Jose went and acquired half the property or more, which is good for us because they're committed ... Starting now, somewhere else? Forget it, it's not gonna happen.
This is Wolff at his most disingenuous. Let's summarize: He has refused to work sincerely with Oakland from the beginning. And simultaneously, it's clear (from various articles that we've linked to) that he has worked with San Jose from the beginning. Don't believe us? You can see the factual verification at these links:
e) and Here.
And that's the short list of links. How is he being disingenuous?
Wolff went out and quietly created the very set of conditions that he now is citing as the reason why he "must" move the team. It's the most cynical type of self-fulfilling prophecy.
When talking about a new stadium, Wolff said:
We want players to look up and have the stands filled. As much as they shouldn't care whether it's one person or 50,000, they do care.
But, of course, Wolff doesn't want the stands filled. If he did, the A's front office would be doing almost exactly the opposite of what they've done under Wolff's watch, because, as noted above, almost every move Wolff has made since becoming owner has depressed attendance. If Wolff wanted more fans, then why did he cancel FanFest? Why is A's billboard advertising nonexistent? Why don't they work harder at community outreach? Why is customer service so bad at the Coliseum? Why ... well, you get the picture. See above for more examples on this.
And that's a wrap. If you made it all the way through this, then you're our kind of Oakland A's fan. Until then, keep the faith. The facts are on Oakland's side in this fight. One day, this thing is going to turn around in Oakland's favor, and when it does, we can get back to enjoying the kind of thrilling moments that made us all A's fans to begin with ... like this Oakland baseball moment.
Let's go, Oakland.