February 2013 EBC headline following Mayor
Quan’s State of the City address.
OAKLAND | ANALYSIS | Last February, Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell spoke to a group of rabid East Bay sports fans at a Mexican restaurant in Oakland. With a margarita in hand, Blackwell uncorked a familiar refrain when it comes to the perpetual question of where the A’s will next call home. “Lew Wolff won’t talk to us,” said Blackwell. It was as simple as that. Alameda County Supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty routinely uttered the same basic phrase, as well. Before a deal to keep the A’s in Oakland with a new ballpark on the waterfront, or as part of the sprawling Coliseum City development could happen, officials maintained, the team’s co-owner had to first show a willingness to even sit at the negotiating table.
After news this weekend, Major League Baseball denied either the entire notion of the A’s moving to San Jose or the specific Cisco Field plan, or both, it appears time for Wolff to bury his stance toward Oakland, devoid of any other options, and begin to move the future of the team forward in Oakland. Although Wolff has continued to alienate Oakland and Alameda County, news of the June 17 letter from MLB to the A’s denying their move to the South Bay now reveals signs he was already seeing the writing on the wall, in some cases, somewhat begrudgingly.
In hindsight, when the sports world unmercifully mocked the “aging” Coliseum last June after reports both clubhouses were flooded with raw sewage, most were unaware of MLB’s denial letter to the A’s. The cause of the backed up clubhouse toilet appeared to be an inside job. Stadium management reported the cause was some sort of sweater flushed down the toilet. Yet another sewage incident weeks later, this time in the A’s dugout, was due to a hand towel jammed down the john. (Also note, the new two-year lease announced last month includes language prohibiting A’s officials from publicly disparaging the Coliseum.) Was this Wolff’s idea of payback to MLB? It seems more than coincidental. Almost like the first stage of depression featuring anger on Wolff’s part.
However, by September, Wolff summoned the team’s beat writers and sounded the most amendable to, at least, contemplating the notion of a downtown ballpark in Oakland. He had previously maintained such a project was untenable. Wolff told reporters a downtown ballpark in either Oakland or San Jose “was the key to unlocking the fan base.” He then added, “If we were in a downtown, like most stadiums are now, there’s a chance that people would be around and come out. I doubt very much that a lawyer in downtown Oakland is going to go down the elevator (from his office), get his car and drive to the park.”
The two-year lease extension for the A’s to play at the Coliseum, is admittedly, an atrocious deal for taxpayers on its surface. However, if you read between the lines, the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority may have been telegraphing the deal is designed to placate MLB and ultimately pave the way for the team to remain in Oakland via baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s blessing.
In addition, if you fast forward, the proposed Coliseum City project is showing positive early signs of being a possibility, at least, for a new stadium for the Raiders. A spot for the A’s near 66th Avenue is available, but so is the potential for a waterfront stadium near Jack London Square. Last week, during a joint meeting of the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Mayor Jean Quan sounded totally open to moving forward with either site. Basically, whichever location Wolff likes, that’s where we will go, she indicated.
Quan said MLB has always favored a downtown ballpark for the A’s. Wolff appears to want the same and the city will go either way. For Quan, who is up for re-election, it looks like a tailor-made double-play that not only keeps the A’s in Oakland, but Quan in the mayor’s office another four years.