THE SELIG STEP STILL NOT TAKEN

By Murray Chass

May 4, 2014

Since March 30, 2009, Major League Baseball, under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, has taken these steps:

  • expanded its playoffs a second time in Selig’s 21 years and eight months as commissioner by adding a wild card in each league
  • added blood testing for human growth hormone
  • enhanced testosterone testing
  • created two 15-team leagues by moving the Houston Astros from the National League to the American
  • expanded instant replay from its initial, limited use in 2008
  • added rules for home-plate collisions
  • created and shredded an investigative unit that laid the groundwork for Alex Rodriguez’s year-long suspension

Is there anything Selig hasn’t done that he could have in that time? Yes, and what would that be? He could have made a decision on the request of the Oakland Athletics’ owner, Lew Wolff, to move to San Jose.lew-wolff-225

I’m not saying Selig could have approved the request of his friend since their college days 60 or so years ago, though I think he should say go. But I am saying he has had enough time to make a decision.

I was told in the past week that Selig will not make, certainly not announce, a decision, as long as the city of San Jose maintains its antitrust lawsuit against MLB and Selig. But San Jose’s lawyers filed that lawsuit last June, more than four years after Wolff made his request.

The date I mention, March 30, 2009, is significant, because it was on that day that Selig named three men to a committee to study the ramifications of an A’s move to San Jose. The committee is in its sixth year of operation, and no end is in sight. That’s because any time Selig is asked when he might make a decision, he says the committee still has work to do.

It’s hard to believe that there’s anything more the committee can learn, and I have been tempted to contact the three members and ask them what’s left for them to do, but I am certain they would either decline to talk or they would lie, and I don’t like people lying to me.

The committee members are Robert Starkey, sports consultant and former accountant who worked on stadium issues for the Minnesota Twins; Corey Busch, sports consultant and former Giants’ executive, who worked on that team’s Santa Clara County ball park efforts, and Irwin Jaij, an attorney, who handled ball park deals for the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins.

If Selig selected these three men for their experience and expertise, it would seem logical that they should have been able to complete their task in far less than it has taken them. That’s why it strains credulity when Selig says they have more work to do even if the commissioner is paying them by the hour.

Selig doesn’t have to make the decision on his own. Should he say the Athletics may move to San Jose and the San Francisco Giants objected, which they would because San Jose is part of their territory under MLB rules, owners of all 30 major league teams would have to vote on the move. The A’s would need a three-quarters majority, or 23 ayes, to make the move.

As sensible as it seems to allow the A’s to move to San Jose, the 10th largest market in the country, Wolff would not be guaranteed approval by his fellow owners. At least some of them would buy the Giants’ contention that losing the San Jose-Santa Clara area would hurt them financially.

Oakland As StadiumOn the other hand, the other clubs would benefit economically from having the Athletics play in San Jose instead of Oakland, whose stadium has become dismal and dilapidated. The Giants would benefit, too, by having the Bay Area to themselves.

Selig would be reluctant to leave a decision wholly to the owners. He has always ruled by consensus and would want to know the outcome before the vote. In fact, maybe he’s taking so long to make a decision because he hasn’t been able to build a consensus for whichever preference he has.

I have written frequently on the subject of San Jose, and I am writing about it yet again because of Selig’s refusal to answer a question that was posed to him at the annual meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors. This is from the AP report on Selig’s appearance:

“Wouldn’t commit to a resolution of the Athletics-Giants dispute over Oakland’s right to move to San Jose but did say, ‘I’d like to at least on all issues try to remove as many of the controversial difficult ones’ before he leaves.”

Selig has created and enhanced this particular controversy himself. A decision either way in the past five years would have eliminated the controversy. What would the loser do?

Wolff has indicated he has no interest in suing his way to San Jose. The Giants have threatened to sue, but baseball’s constitution bars lawsuits against the commissioner, and when an owner has sued anyway he hasn’t fared well.

Larry Baer, the Giants’ president and chief executive officer, last week declined to discuss a lawsuit or anything else about the dispute. “I’m not going to comment on it,” he said.

Selig won’t talk about San Jose either, and Wolff says there is nothing to talk about. However, Selig’s procrastination has created problems for Wolff. It seems like once a week or at least every other week Bob Rose, the A’s public relations director, sends out a “clarification” of something that has been written in a Bay Area publication.

Here’s one from last December “setting the record straight” on “our position:”

“On Dec. 17, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross reported that Oakland A’s Owner and Managing General Partner Lew Wolff was intending to meet with representatives of a proposed developer of a Southern California real estate company to discuss the A’s interest in “a new coliseum deal”.

“For the record, Mr. Wolff never commented on any meeting and was not contacted to verify any reference to a meeting.

“’We are only prepared to meet with our landlord, the JPA, or elected and designated officials of Alameda County and the City of Oakland, to discuss any aspect of our venue or lease,’” Wolff said.

Here’s one from Feb 5, a “clarification on East Bay Express article yesterday:”

“On Tuesday (Feb. 4), the East Bay Express reported that Oakland A’s Owner and Managing General Partner Lew Wolff recently said Coliseum City ‘could potentially work.’ As a clarification, Mr. Wolff has never commented on any aspect of Coliseum City as referenced in this article.”

Here’s another one from March 17 “setting the record straight:”

“On March 11, San Francisco Examiner sports columnist Glenn Dickey wrote an article about Oakland A’s Owner and Managing Partner Lew Wolff entitled ‘A’s Owner Wolff standing in the Way of a New Stadium.’ The column featured numerous and un-resourced inaccuracies that need to be clarified.”

This is a statement from club President Michael Crowley April 23 on an announcement by the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority:

Lew Wolff Bud Selig.jpg“First, we owe no back rent or any other amounts. We did deduct rent payments in the past for items that we are allowed under our lease, but that was our negotiated right.

“Second, there is absolutely nothing in either our lease offer to them or their counter proposal to us that mentions any kind of subsidy. In fact, under our final offer we would immediately invest no less than $10 million in the facility and our rent would rise from the amounts that we have paid over the last decade.

“We have nothing additional to offer and as a result there will be no further negotiations.”

Faced with the reality of not being able to build a park in San Jose in time even if they are permitted to move, the Athletics have tried to negotiate an extension on the lease for their park in Oakland beyond its expiration after the 2015 season. The city’s mayor, however, has conditioned an extension on the team’s willingness to build a new park in Oakland.

This is an A’s statement “regarding lease proposal:”

“The A’s received the Oakland-Alameda County Authority’s proposal earlier this afternoon. While the proposal was for 10 years, it did not address all of our issues. Consequently, we cannot accept the terms of the offer. We have tried to negotiate in good faith for the past several months. As the Authority knows, it is still our preference not to negotiate this agreement through the media.”

The A’s also issued this statement:

“Lew Wolff, Owner/Managing Partner, commented, ‘The Mayor conditions the A’s lease acceptance on us guaranteeing that the A’s build a new ballpark. Under no condition can I entertain such a requirement to enter into a lease, anywhere.’”

The Athletics still don’t have a lease extension or a place to play after next season. They can thank Selig for that predicament.

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.