Posted: Dec 17, 2008, 1:32 AM
Join Date: Jul 2004
Purdy: A's ballpark options include San Jose
By Mark Purdy
Mercury News Columnist
Article Launched: 12/13/2008 09:05:58 PM PST
What a curious turn of events. And what a curious turn of a phrase from baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
Over the past few days, the lurching yet inevitable move of the A's toward the South Bay took another bumpy lurch toward ... um, somewhere.
Fremont? Still quite possible.
San Jose? All at once, we are apparently in the on-deck circle.
Given the nation's current economic state, of course, it is difficult to imagine any team building anything, anywhere. However, A's owner Lew Wolff says he can assemble enough conventional financing to build a proposed Fremont ballpark while delaying the development of Cisco Systems land that was scheduled to fund the project.
And so, last week, a series of meetings allowed Fremont residents to speak their minds about the ballpark plan. Some citizens favored the Auto Mall Parkway location along Interstate 880. Some folks preferred a site near a future BART station. Others thought both ideas smelled worse than a Milpitas landfill.
Yet as these local opinions were being voiced, a far more riveting opinion suddenly popped up from New York City. The opinion was contained in a letter addressed on Major League Baseball stationery. The letter was from Selig to Wolff, dated Dec. 3.
The letter basically says the commissioner is rooting hard for the Fremont deal to "get to some resolution in the near future." But if that doesn't happen, Selig has already decreed the next step.
"I have decided," Selig writes to Wolff, "that in the event you are not able to promptly assure the implementation of the desired ballpark in Fremont, you may begin to discuss a ballpark with other communities."
Those last two words — "other communities" — were what raised eyebrows higher than a Jack Cust flyout.
Selig's letter goes against every previous public utterance he has made on the subject. Previously, the commissioner has rigidly backed the Giants' claim that they had "territorial rights" to Santa Clara County. That's why Fremont is in play. It's just on the other side of the county border.
But now, poof. The commissioner's rigidity is gone. If Fremont falls through, the Oakland A's can negotiate to become the Other Community A's.
And it takes no genius to determine which Other Community would be the primary discussion target.
That would be us. San Jose. You know, the Bay Area's largest city with the best baseball weather. The prime site, just south of downtown's Diridon Train Station, has already cleared an environmental impact report for a ballpark.
In a recent phone conversation with Wolff, he was relentlessly prudent when I tried to push him into saying San Jose was his intended alternate target. He simply kept repeating the letter's language. But earlier, Wolff told MediaNews that "I don't think there's any restrictions as to where" the A's can look. A phone call to Selig's office late last week seeking clarification was not returned.
Here is one thing many people don't understand: The Giants may indeed possess the territorial rights to the South Bay. But they do not control those territorial rights. Major League Baseball does. And if enough team owners vote to allow the A's into Santa Clara County, those territorial rights would vanish.
Long ago, a highly placed baseball source told me Selig could easily get such a vote passed on behalf of the A's. But he did not wish to do so — it would require political maneuvering with some big egos — unless a ballpark would definitely be built as a result.
The Catch-22, of course, was that the people in San Jose who could definitely put together a ballpark deal were never going to get excited and energetic about doing so unless the territorial rights issue was gone.
Selig's letter — and those two words — seemingly removes that catch. This doesn't mean San Jose can, or even should, immediately leap at the chance to hand the A's a fabulous deal. Mayor Chuck Reed said last week that he did not intend to initiate any talks with Wolff.
"I won't be calling," Reed said. "Lew's got my phone number ... He'll have to bring his checkbook. We don't have any money."
But this tells us something: When I mentioned the mayor's quasi-flippant remark to Wolff, he was hardly miffed.
"Not at all," Wolff said. "I think the mayor is terrific. He's honest."
People often ask me what Wolff wants, or what his "real" strategy is. The answer isn't complicated. Wolff wants a new ballpark for his team, as soon as possible, somewhere in the Bay Area. That's it. There is no other ulterior motive.
Selig's letter, then, should be taken for exactly what it appears to be: An attempt to create more urgency in Fremont to either firm up a site or forget it.
And if Fremont passes? Then Wolff has instant permission to speak with San Jose (or possibly Santa Clara) as Selig wrangles back-channel support to keep the Giants from screaming too loud.
Those who say San Jose would be nuts to think about a ballpark strategy during recessionary times need to calm down. In the first place, the economy won't slump forever. In the second place, under the Wolff plan in Fremont, no public money is being used to pay for the $500 million ballpark construction. And no taxes are being raised.
So. Let's say that Wolff offers San Jose the same deal. How could Reed — and the city — not listen? Most observers believe the A's and Fremont will not have their situation resolved, one way or another, until summer. It means that San Jose has six or seven months to get in discussion mode.
Do we want to be the "other community?" Or just another community? I know which way I would lurch.