LATEST INSTALLMENT ON THE SELIG STALL

By Murray Chass

June 29, 2014

Shame on Bud Selig. With friends like him, who needs enemies?

With Selig’s alleged retirement less than seven months away, talk is growing about his legacy. His legacy is very important to the historically-minded commissioner.

You want legacy? I’ll give you legacy. No matter how well baseball has flourished during Selig’s 22-year tenure, no matter that Major League Baseball revenue has risen to the $9 billion neighborhood, for me Selig’s legacy will be the way he has shafted Lew Wolff.lew-wolff-225

Forget that Selig and Wolff were fraternity brothers at the University of Wisconsin 60 years ago. Ten years ago Selig lured Wolff into baseball, urging his wealthy real estate developer friend to buy the Oakland Athletics, a team in economic but not athletic distress.

Wolff, more familiar with luxury hotels than luxury baseball players, bought the A’s; induced the ultra-talented general manager Billy Beane to stay by giving him a small stake in the team (speculated to be 4 percent) and has enjoyed his team’s American League West titles the last two years.

The 78-year-old Wolff, on the other hand, has spent five frustrating years – actually more than five years – trying to gain Selig’s approval to move the A’s to San Jose in the economic and fan-rich Silicon Valley. Selig, though, appointed a three-man committee March 30, 2009 to study the matter, and more than five years later the study goes on and on and on as Selig says the committee has more work to do.

I say baloney and Wolff would, too, if he weren’t being so careful not to antagonize his so-called friend.

As if the commissioner’s inexplicable delay in making a decision weren’t bad enough, Selig, in my opinion, inflamed it last week with a patronizing statement commending Wolff and the Oakland coliseum authority for reaching agreement on a 10-year lease renewal:

“I commend the Oakland Athletics and the JPA for their efforts in reaching an extension for a lease at O.co Coliseum. The agreement on this extension is a crucial first step towards keeping Major League Baseball in Oakland.

“I continue to believe that the Athletics need a new facility and am fully supportive of the club’s view that the best site in Oakland is the Coliseum site. Contrary to what some have suggested, the committee that has studied this issue did not determine that the Howard Terminal site was the best location for a new facility in Oakland.”

Little wonder that Selig commended the A’s and the coliseum authority. The lease agreement gives the A’s a home park while his committee continues to “study” the Oakland-San Jose issue and gives the commissioner an excuse while he continues to procrastinate.

Details of the lease have not been released, but a person familiar with it said it gives the A’s an escape clause so they could leave if they were to get baseball’s OK to move to San Jose.

What isn’t clear is whether the escape clause is linked to the desire of the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League to build a new stadium on the site of the existing dilapidated coliseum. It apparently is clear that the A’s could breach their 10-year agreement, which begins in 2016, if the Raiders opted to build on the site.

The new lease, which must still be approved by various governmental bodies, does not change the desire of the A’s owner to move to San Jose, said the person with knowledge of the lease. However, the Selig stall could.

A June 10 report on the San Jose Mercury News web site by Mark Purdy said Wolff had now put San Jose and Oakland “on equal footing as potential locations, assuming that the A’s are ever allowed to pursue a South Bay move….”

Previously San Jose was Wolff’s clear-cut choice. The A’s owner, though, has to face reality. He negotiated a new Coliseum lease because the A’s will need a place to play after next season, and the longer Selig stalls the more difficult life will become for the A’s.

The commissioner has two legitimate excuses for his delaying tactics: the city of San Jose has filed an antitrust lawsuit against MLB, and the San Francisco Giants have territorial right to San Jose under major league rules.

Lew Wolff Bud Selig.jpgIf Selig were to tell his old friend to go and be well, the lawsuit would quickly go away. The Giants, on the other hand, aren’t going anywhere. They have threatened to sue to block an A’s move to San Jose, and that threat has apparently served as the biggest roadblock for Selig in his deliberations even though there is precedent for commissioners prevailing in owner or club lawsuits against them.

As shameful as Selig’s stall is, the Giants, through a succession of owners, managing partners and chief executives, share that shame.

The Giants are correct in their claim that San Jose is in their territory, but they debunk the story of how they acquired the territory, calling it “an urban myth.” Minutes of the owners’ meeting at which the territory was ceded to them and people who were there refute their denial.

The Giants and the A’s shared Santa Clara County, just as the Yankees and the Mets share territories in the New York area. When the Giants were struggling and considering moving to Santa Clara in 1990, they asked the A’s owner, Walter Haas Jr., if he objected.

Haas, unlike many owners a genuine gentleman of class, magnanimously agreed to let the Giants move into the shared territory and asked for nothing in return. Now the Giants reject the story of Haas’s unique gesture as urban myth and refuse to be as magnanimous as Haas was.

“Walter Haas was right up there; he was one of the great men in baseball,” said Fay Vincent, the commissioner at the time, who confirmed the Haas story. So has Selig, who attended that meeting as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

In defending their position, the Giants say Santa Clara County has become an important source of fans and sponsorships. A team in San Jose, however, could benefit baseball generally. That’s what Haas had in mind when he handed the Giants Santa Clara County. But then none of the Giants’ owners have had Haas’ stature or class.

Why won’t Selig make a decision? Maybe he has and just doesn’t want to break the bad news to his buddy Lew. More likely he’s stalling in the hopes that Wolff will work out something on his own. The Coliseum lease, for example. Then he can issue patronizing statements applauding the friend he lured into baseball, then shafted.

POLANCO COMES LATE, HITS EARLY

Has Gregory Polanco burst onto the National League scene because of the extra experience the Pirates forced on him the past month in the minor leagues, or could he have hit as productively had the Pirates called him up two or three or four weeks earlier?

I know what the Pirates brain trust would say without asking so I didn’t bother. President Frank Coonelly and General Manager Neal Huntington haven’t returned calls the past month to discuss their treatment of Polanco, but the rookie right fielder is speaking for himself.

Polanco, called up June 10 to play right field for the Pirates, hit safely in every one of his first 11 games, making him No. 5 in major league history for a hitting streak at the start of a career.Gregory Polanco HR

The only players ahead of him, according to Major League Baseball, were Juan Pierre (16 games, 2000, Rockies), Glenn Williams, (13, 2005, Twins), Rocco Baldelli (13, 2003, Devil Rays) and Ryan McGuire (12, 1997, Expos).

Until he failed to get a hit in 9 at-bats against the Mets Friday and Saturday, the 22-year-old Dominican native was hitting .338 in his first 16 games, 10 of which the Pirates won after they had a 30-33 record pre-Polanco.

The Pirates, of course, would say the extra time they kept Polanco in the minors fueled his fast start. I say all it did was insure that Polanco would not qualify for salary arbitration in 2017 and deprive the team of a chance for more victories and an earlier entry into the wild-card race.

In an interview with Coonelly, The New York Times uncharacteristically raised the salary arbitration issue.

“I’m glad that we’re asking questions that way as opposed to ‘man, he’s really struggling; you moved too quickly,’” Coonelly responded. “I’d much rather err on the side of ‘maybe we could have been a little quicker’ if it means that he’s locked in when he gets up here and he’s feeling comfortable.”

The Times, however, ignored or didn’t know of the Pirates’ clear and consistent pattern of player call-up dates. Polanco was one of seven players the Pirates called up in the period May 29-June 16 from 2009 through this season. Among the others were Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole and Pedro Alvarez.

During the course of Polanco’s impressive extended debut, another delayed rookie, Andrew Heaney, made his pitching debut for the Marlins. On June 19 he held the Mets to 1 run in 6 innings. His second start wasn’t as good. The Phillies scored 5 runs in 5 innings.

It’s not likely that the Marlins delayed the call-up of Heaney, whom MLB.com rated the No. 1 left-handed pitching prospect. He began this season in Class AA of the minor leagues and was moved up to AAA May 20.

“We wanted him to have some turns at Tripe A,” Dan Jennings, the Marlins’ general manager, said in a telephone interview. “We wanted him to polish his changeup. We felt if we could get him some experience with it at Triple A we’d be in good shape. We were waiting for our development staff to tell us he was ready.”

The Marlins needed a starter because their ace, Jose Fernandez, had elbow transplant surgery May 16 and Randy Wolf and Jacob Turner didn’t work out as replacements.

“We figured it was time to try the kid,” Jennings said.

The Marlins have another rookie pitcher, a right-hander, Anthony DeSclafani, but he made his first start May 14. He has a 1-2 record with a 7.40 earned run average in 5 starts.

This past weekend it was the Red Sox who brought up a youngster, a 21-year-old second baseman, Mookie Betts. He was the organization’s offensive player of the year last season while playing for two Class A teams.

Playing second base and the outfield for AA and AAA teams this year, he batted .345, scored 70 runs and had 29 stolen bases in 77 games. With the American League’s least productive offense, the Red Sox are desperate for someone who might light the missing spark

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