Thursday, June 23, 2011

Howard Bryant's A's Articles

Howard Bryant, an reporter, is one of our favorite national sportswriters. He's written three baseball books: "The Last Hero (a Henry Aaron biography), "Juicing the Game" (steroids in baseball) and "Shut Out" (baseball's unsavory history of racism), all of which are excellent. And few journalists "get it" as well as he does when tackling MLB's often circuitous and money-mad halls of power.

We appreciate a talent like Bryant putting a national spotlight on the plight of A's fans. A good chunk of what he wrote in his two articles about the A's search for a new stadium was accurate and, we believe, supports our view of of keeping the A's in Oakland.

Update: To read Bryant's article, please click here for Part I and click here for Part II.

Here are our favorite excerpts from Bryant's articles last week:

*Concern exists both from A's fans and from rival teams that Wolff's business partner, John Fisher, is one of the richest men in the game but doesn't pay for players. Rival clubs as well as the Players Association are also concerned that the A's received $32 million in revenue sharing last season with little obvious evidence that the money has gone back into the club payroll.

*In 14 of the 15 years before the Giants were purchased from Bob Lurie by the ownership led by Peter Magowan, the Athletics outdrew the Giants at the gate.

*...there is another truth Wolff must face: Oakland doesn't have much reason to trust him, either. Since Walter Haas sold the team in 1995, A's owners have done everything in their power to leave Oakland, physically and emotionally.

*There is a growing sentiment in Oakland that despite Wolff's protestations that he has exhausted all avenues to build a stadium in Oakland, ownership is purposely sabotaging the team in a host of onerous ways, by failing to support the A's, to spend money on the big names, and especially by publicly demeaning the city as unviable, all to pursue its only true objective: to move to San Jose -- or else.

*Wolff says he went into his research with the best, most positive intentions. But the energy he brings to Oakland, like that of Schott and Hofmann before him, is negative ...

*Despite Wolff's protestations that he is not purposely burying the club, the A's appear to be following the Montreal narrative.

*Selig's committee ... appears intrigued by a parcel of land in Oakland called Victory Court, which is located on the waterfront, close to public transportation.

And last, but not least, discussing the Los Angeles Dodgers' situation:

*Selig should begin negotiating the exit plan for McCourt and install Wolff as the new owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Removing Wolff from Oakland and installing him in Los Angeles solves two key issues: (1) It opens the door for a clean slate of negotiations between a new A's ownership and the city of Oakland; and (2) by awarding Wolff one of the four most important franchises in baseball (the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox are the other three), it compensates him for blocking him from San Jose.

That is a scenario that we would love to see come to fruition.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Melvin's Pride in Oakland Legacy Aids Team's Turnaround

Ever since Bob Melvin took over as A's manager, he has consistently shown one thing that has been lacking in the A's organization since 2005: Pride. He especially has shown pride in the A's history and its rich Oakland legacy.

And his style of embracing the A's 43-plus years of 'Oakland-ness' has helped turn the team around, yielding six straight wins before Wednesday night's close loss. Despite the setback, Melvin has done the unthinkable in just two weeks: He brought the A's back to respectability.

Most importantly, Melvin's style is what A's fans have been waiting for and what Lew Wolff and Billy Beane have been trying to avoid for years. Melvin's success speaks to the owners' lie that they can't succeed in Oakland. For, Melvin has almost instantly succeeded by doing what the owners have stubbornly refused to do: embrace Oakland.

Melvin immediately took the No. 6 for his jersey. It was Captain Sal Bando's number, he explained -- a reference to the A's third baseman and team captain of Oakland's World Series dynasty of the early 1970s.

Almost immediately, Melvin has embraced the Oakland Coliseum, boasting to the media that he not only remembered the A's dynasty of the '70s and the great La Russa/Alderson teams of the late '80s, but he also attended the legendary Day on the Green concerts held each summer at the Coliseum back in the day. Melvin said he went to the 1976 concert with the legendary co-headliners, The Who and The Grateful Dead. More importantly, he's welcoming former A's legends with open arms, like when he enthusiastically welcomed Oakland baseball legend Rickey Henderson during the Bay Bridge Series to help teach the young A's about baserunning.

All of this may sound trivial, but it's not. Melvin is showing pride in three things that Wolff, Fisher and Beane have refused to: 1) Oakland baseball history, 2) memories of the Coliseum's heyday, 3) legendary former A's players.

While Wolff and Beane were throwing a pity party -- to quote columnist Ann Killion -- the A's went 28-40 and were considered a "rotting franchise" by many. With Melvin's positive approach, in contrast, he instantly turned the team around -- on the field, in the win column and with the attitude in the clubhouse. We'll take Melvin's way over Wolff's and Beane's way, anytime.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beautiful Day in Oakland

Even before Sunday's A's-Giants game at the Coliseum, it was a beautiful day in Oakland. Especially at Jack London Square, where thousands of people by noon had already gathered at its bevy of waterfront restaurants and its weekly Farmers Market.

All those hungry customers were packing Jack London Square eateries like Scott's, Kincaid's, Miss Pearl's Jam House, Boccanova, Il Pescatore, The Fat Lady and bars like Heinold's First & Last Chance Saloon.

Baseball fans decked out in A's jerseys were among the restaurant customers. A Joe Rudi jersey and a Suzuki T-shirt, along with too many A's hats to count, were spotted.

With the perfect summer weather and the thousands of mid-day revelers on the day of a big A's-Giants game, it wasn't hard to imagine how perfect the Oakland waterfront is for hosting 35,000 to 40,000 fans each game at a Victory Court A's ballpark.

That Wrigley Field-like infrastructure -- a neighborhood of apartments, taverns and eateries -- is already there along Oakland's waterfront. So are the public transit options. Lake Merritt BART station is just about the same distance from Victory Court as the Coliseum BART station is from the Coliseum. Amtrak and commuter trains stop just two or three blocks from Victory Court. The Jack London ferry stop is nearby and Interstates 880 and 980 roll right by, too. The ingress-egress infrastructure is already present for Victory Court, making it THE best future stadium site in Northern California.

There's a reason why Travel & Leisure magazine last year called Jack London Square one of the nation's next great neighborhoods. After looking at the facts, constructing a new A's ballpark there makes too much sense to pass up.

And why not? On a day when the Oakland A's swept the San Francisco Giants and won their 5th game in a row, bringing themselves just 5 games away from first place ... anything feels possible.

Let's go, Oakland.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Pandora Effect" on Oakland Tech Biz

San Francisco Business Times reporter Blanca Torres wrote an excellent article about how symbolizes Oakland's underrated and fast-growing economic strength.

Torres wrote:

Oakland is not known as a hub for innovative or tech firms, but it is slowly becoming one thanks to firms like Pandora, Sungevity, Lucid Design Group,, Xantrion, Bright Source Energy, Skytide Inc., Livescribe, and the list goes on.

Now city and business leaders hope to capitalize on what's been dubbed the "Pandora effect" and attract start-ups the same way companies gravitate to Google in Mountain View and Twitter in San Francisco.

Pandora execs not only hav made Oakland home, they intend to stay there, Torres wrote. Pandora CEO, Joe Kennedy, gave a very Moneyball-like list of reasons why Oakland's Uptown neighborhood is a perfect fit for companies like his. Kennedy said:

When you're talking about a young company, a start-up, finance matters and Oakland has very reasonable costs by Bay Area standards. We're a music company. We like the character of the neighborhood with the Paramount and the Fox Theater nearby. That resonates with many of the employees at Pandora.

Also mentioned is INOAK (Innovate Oakland), a new business group that "has seized Oakland's escalating start-up boom and helped create connections by hosting mixers and other networking opportunities," Torres wrote. The budding tech scene in downtown Oakland "could usher in a new crop of firms that 10 years from now announce their own IPOs."

Torres then listed Oakland's "many attributes," such as easy public transportation access, lower costs, temperate weather, and access to the East Bay's big and growing workforce.

Sounds like the same factors that would make an Oakland waterfront ballpark so attractive. We're hoping that baseball's powers-that-be will show the same vision that Pandora's leaders have.

Pandora enjoyed a $235 million IPO on Wednesday. Then, its stock dipped on Thursday.

Still, the Oakland Tribune's George Avalos also wrote a very positive article this week about Pandora.

In the article, Mayor Jean Quan said of Pandora:

Joe Kennedy always says that Oakland is the only place his company could be because of its cultural vibe. This is the kind of place where he can find the kind of talent he needs to make his business possible.

Pandora has 359 employees and it's looking to add 34 more positions in Oakland. Walter Cohen, Oakland's director of Community and Economic Development Agency, added:

The notion that we are building a population base downtown makes us attractive to other technological companies.

But maybe Deborah Roth, a Pandora vice president, said it best:

The majority of our employees are in Oakland. We love Oakland.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tale of Two Owners

Walter A. Haas, Jr. and John Fisher have a lot in common, with one huge exception. Haas was an excellent sports owner when he owned the Oakland A's. Fisher, in contrast, has been a disaster as the A's current owner.

Both men were born and raised in San Francisco and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. Haas and Fisher both come from two of the biggest clothing empires in San Francisco, Levi's for Walter and the Gap for John.

But this is where the similarities end.

It was Walter who purchased the Oakland A's in 1980 from Charlie Finley, and he led the club to glory with three consecutive World Series appearances, including a World Series title in 1989. As for Fisher, he purchased the Athletics (with minority-interest owner Lew Wolff as the front man) in 2005. Fisher inherited a perennial contender that frequently drew over 2 million fans annually and, almost immediately, he and Wolff mismanaged the franchise and ran it into the ground.

This 2011 season will be the fifth consecutive non-winning campaign (four losing seasons and one .500 season) for the Fisher/Wolff regime.

In 2006, Fisher and Wolff excluded A's fans from the third deck by tarping it off. They said they wanted a "more intimate" setting, but, perhaps not coincidentally, the move depressed attendance and prevented it from ever hitting the 2 million mark, which was the threshold at which the A's would have to share revenue with the city, according to the Coliseum lease at the time.

Also, payroll has subsequently decreased since the 2005 purchase, despite the fact that Fisher/Wolff is the fourth-richest ownership in all of Major League Baseball. The refusal to add to payroll and the tarping of the third deck have led to a substandard fan experience. Many in the press, from Ann Killion to Lowell Cohn to Glenn Dickey, have speculated that Fisher has purposely depressed attendance and put an inferior product on the field to justify moving the Athletics out of Oakland.

To this day, Fisher has been silent about Oakland ballpark locations, including the proposed Victory Court site. This is not surprising given that Fisher is an avid Giants fan.

As a result, A's fans are stuck in a depressing holding pattern and the team's constant mediocrity has resulted in the lame-duck status of this once-proud franchise.

Contrast this to Walter A. Haas Jr., who believed in investing money in the team and the community. Perhaps, John Fisher does not care about his legacy since he is an avid Giants fan looking to cash in on the short-term through revenue sharing and by not investing it back into the team.

Fisher has not shown that he is willing to work within his territory, which includes Alameda and Contra Costa counties, home to 2.5 million people and a few Fortune 500 companies like Chevron, Safeway, and Clorox. Many MLB markets around the nation can't even claim to possess that kind of market size and corporate strength. But the Oakland A's and their East Bay market can -- despite the false claims to the contrary often made by the small but vocal group of Wolff apologists.

In short, Fisher and Wolff could make the A's a viable franchise again, but they choose not to. Haas previously did, and with a smaller population and corporate base.

Or, as Bruce Jenkins wrote recently in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Until Fisher speaks up, or at least shows his face, we have to assume he's only in baseball so he can drop a few clever lines at cocktail parties."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Crony Island

We had to rub our eyes and check the TV again to believe them. There on the MLB Draft ticker last week, it said: In the 39th round, the Oakland A's select USC infielder Shane Boras, son of the famed superagent, Scott Boras.

Why do we care? Well, the selection is part of the problem with the A's, who are well on their way to a fifth consecutive non-winning season. The problem is that the A's front office, once the proud and celebrated home of critical thinking and "Moneyball," clearly has an illness.

The disease? Cronyism. And the Shane Boras draft selection is the biggest symptom. See, in the late rounds, the A's also took Brett Geren, ex-manager Bob Geren's son, and sons or nephews of A's first base coach Tye Waller and A's scouts Jim Coffman and Jeff Bittiger.

So, how did a money-mad agent like Scott Boras make his way into Billy Beane's notoriously frugal "A's family?"

This migh be the reason: In January, Scott Boras was quoted in a Jan. 20, 2011, Ken Rosenthal column saying that "the A's could become a success if moved to San Jose."

The facts don't support Boras' opinion -- that's been well-chronicled.

But it was a strange column for other reasons, too. Why would Boras, who is known for being a pain for owners, especially cheap ones like Fisher and Wolff, seem to be reading from Wolff's personal list of PR talking points about moving the team? And out of all the "experts" to comment on the matter, why would Rosenthal talk only to a money-obsessed players' agent who clearly has a personal financial stake in how much teams spend?

At first glance, it seemed Boras was doing Fisher and Wolff a favor, for whatever reason.

Nearly five months later, Beane and the A's repaid Boras the favor by picking his son in the draft. It's a lot like how Beane hired his wedding's best man, Bob Geren, to be the A's manager instead of a qualified candidate like Ron Washington. It's a good ol' boy network where buddies hook each other up, and where favors, back-scratching and going along to get along rule the day.

The downside to cronyism? Hooking your buddy up -- and having that favor repaid -- starts to take a backseat to other goals like winning or pleasing your customers.

For more than four seasons, Geren made one head-scratching, bad decision after the other, sending the team in a depressing downward spiral, and it took a near team mutiny before he finally was held accountable. Why? Because he is Beane's buddy.

On Crony Island, unfortunately, things like accountability, professionalism and competence are afterthoughts as long as you don't make waves and kiss up to the powers that be that hooked you up.

We've seen the corrosive, negative results of cronyism with Fisher's and Wolff's Oakland A's in the past five losing seasons. And, after the last day of the draft last week, when the A's had lost their 9th game in a row, Beane finally did fire Geren. But he also went out and gave A's fans more of the same on draft day: more cronies, the next generation.

Just ask Scott and Shane Boras.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sports Radio 95.7 -- The Report Card

If the A's front office -- led by Wolff, Fisher and Mike Crowley -- builds and markets a new ballpark the same deeply flawed way in which it has created its new radio station, then the new stadium will be a bigger failure than Candlestick Park.

After two months of listening, we give the Sports Radio 95.7 station a grade of "D minus," with only one or two radio personalities sparing it from getting an "F."

Where do we start with how disappointing 95.7 has been?

Really, A's fans, could any of us have imagined that "the radio home of the A's" would employ an avowed Giants fan on its morning show and spend as much time or more talking about the Giants and Buster Posey than they talk about the A's? What's the point of having your own home radio station if you're just creating a new KNBR?

When the A's first announced they had joined 95.7 and it's new all-sports format, A's fans were elated because we hoped we would finally have our own Green-and-Gold version of KNBR, our own A's-centric universe where we could talk A's baseball first and the rest of the sportsworld second, through an A's-first filter.

Guess what? It hasn't happened. Not even close. While Giants fans get KNBR's Murph & Mac in the morning, talking Giants constantly with either Krukow or Duane Kuiper and only a brief passing mention of the A's, instead, we're stuck with Monte & J.D. talking nearly as much about the Giants as KNBR does. A's fans are forced to listen to J.D., a big Giants fan who actually said on the air that Madison Bumgarner is better than Gio Gonzales. Whaaaa? How can that happen? Even more important, why is A's management allowing that to happen?

Maybe Fisher, Wolff and Crowley don't care what the radio show hosts talk about, so long as those hosts pimp the owners' obsession with moving the A's to the South Bay. If so, the owners must be happy because nearly all of 95.7 show hosts have been doing just that. The interview that Monte & J.D. had with Wolff in late May was a journalistic embarrassment. The radio show hosts misinformed their listeners about the ballpark situation, shamelessly kissed up to Wolff, and said absolutely nothing about Oakland's years-long efforts to keep the team and the work it's doing on the Victory Court site.

Or, how about the fact that the radio station has stuck A's fans with the terrible Rob & Arnie Show? These are two guys who know very little about sports, and one of them is a big Cowboys football fan. Even worse, Rob & Arnie got in trouble in 2009 for hateful on-air comments they made about transgender kids, and on a recent broadcast they sarcastically referred to a caller with a foreign accent as "Muhummad." (No, it wasn't his real name.) That's unacceptable and no way to sell tickets to the diverse Bay Area.

While the team across the bay, to their credit, is making "It Gets Better" videos, we get these clowns. But Rob & Arnie do say a lot of pro-Wolff and pro-South Bay ballpark comments. So, maybe that's where they get their job security.

Just like the terrible customer service Wolff & Fisher give A's fans at the Coliseum (friends reported missing 40 minutes of the A's-Yankees game because they were waiting in line at under-staffed concession stands, for example), the failures of the radio station reveal a cluelessness in how to run a sports franchise that starts at the top.

People have said, give the radio station time. Rome wasn't built in a day, etc. But it's been two months now.

I mean, A's owner John Fisher should know better. He was once a Giants co-owner and he should know how important KNBR has been in marketing their new ballpark. Again, he should know, but does he? And Wolff has been an A's executive since 2003. He had more than seven seasons to envision how an A's flagship station would sound, and how it could be used to sell tickets and reach out to the fan base.

They've had years of time to come up with a plan and a list of local media/radio personalities to hire as soon as the station became a reality. Amazingly, there appears to be no plan.

But that's assuming that Fisher and Wolff really want to sell tickets and reach out to the fan base. Do they even want to? Sports columnists like Ann Killion, and Marcos Breton and Monte Poole don't think so.

We don't think so, either. We're not surprised that the same A's owners who canceled FanFest, closed concession stands in the bleachers every game, don't have any Spanish-speaking broadcasts, and let great announcers like Lon Simmons, Greg Papa, Amaury Pi-Gonzalez and Marty Lurie leave for other jobs apparently put zero thought into what their home radio station would sound like once they got one.

To be fair, the station isn't entirely terrible. Oakland resident Dan Dibley, plucked from KNBR, is a witty, knowledgeable guy and has been a good addition. Scott Jackson (from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Chris Townsend (from 3 to 6 p.m.) are competent. Not great, but not awful, either. However, Townsend is clearly there to repeat Wolff's & Fisher's talking points about their desire to move to the South Bay. When pro-Oakland callers -- who represent the vast majority of the A's fan base -- try to make their points, Townsend frequently shouts them down or changes the subject, and uses dubious "facts" to misinform listeners on the topic. He's better off just sticking to baseball talk, which he's fairly good at.

What's apparent is that Wolff's & Fisher's failures to grasp the nuances of what makes a radio mouthpiece truly work for a ball club, sadly, will be repeated if they're ever given a chance to make a ballpark happen. That's an opportunity that they frankly don't deserve -- because it's not enough to do just the bare minimum, which is all we've seen from the Wolff-Fisher regime. Pro sports, with all of its unique PR angles, is unlike many other businesses. You have to actually have a plan and then execute that plan with creativity, sweat and an accurate feel for what appeals to your fan/customer base.

Unfortunately, we've seen none of those things from "the new radio home of the A's," and once again, A's fans are stuck with a product far worse than they deserve.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Slumlord Ball

On Thursday, the A's fan blogosphere exploded in response to Monte Poole's column about Wolff & Fisher and the damage they have done to the Oakland A's franchise. Poole actually -- and quite accurately -- called Wolff & Fisher's managing style "the slumlord model." While noting that the A's have the 4th-richest ownership in baseball, Poole added:

The heartbreaking thing ... is that none of the team executives is particularly enraged about this squalid condition, much less committed to promoting and demanding improvement. ...Wolff occasionally offers disingenuous rhetoric about the desire to win games. Fisher, despite an appreciably greater financial stake in the team, stays stone silent -- as if he is unaffiliated with the A's in every conceivable way.

All of it is sad but true. Especially the take on Fisher, the reclusive billionaire son of billionaire Gap founder, Don Fisher. Is Fisher even a fan of baseball? It's hard to know because it's hard to find a quote from him and even harder to find a photo of him anywhere. Here's one of the few quotes he's given -- in San Francisco Magazine about 18 months ago -- since becoming the A's owner:

"My grandparents went to every Giants game after 1958. I grew up a Giants fan. I love AT&T park. We want the Giants to continue to be one of the most successful franchises in baseball. This is not a contest between the A's and the Giants."

Wonderful. Even our owner is a Giants fan.

So, after Poole's column, most A's fans reacted with a mixture of anger and agreement. But lost in all the hubbub, and lost among the Fuentes/Geren controversy last week, was this column from's Scott Miller.

As Miller covered Fuentes' comments about Geren's managerial competence, he offered this eye-popping quote from an anonymous A's player about Geren:

"Guys start to hit, and it's almost like, we'll put him into a slump," one player said.

Whoa! Did he actually say that?

That's a Major League ballplayer openly questioning if his manager is hurting his team on purpose. That's not us making that statement. It's the players. That's how low the players' collective opinion of Geren has sunk. But it's also a sign of how low the players' view is of the A's organization and the men who run it.

For the record, we're not saying Geren is throwing games. But the fact that one of Geren's players on the A's is actually even raising the idea, even as half-joking hyperbole, is remarkable. And also sad, especially given the incredibly rich history of the Oakland A's.

But this type of distrust and suspicion starts at the top of an organization. It's yet one more reason why the A's need new owners. Now.