Tuesday, January 11, 2005

A's Thrown to the Wolff

We interupt our regularly scheduled poker bloggery for the following:

Oakland A's to Be Sold

The Oakland A's owners, who have for a decade cried financial wolf, are selling out to a Wolff, hotel owner-developer Lewis Wolff. In a San Jose Mercury News column today, co-owner and mouthpiece Steve Schott says "it's time" to sell the club. The whole thing.

It has been previously rumored that Wolff--who has worked as a stadium consultant for the A's for over a year--would exercise an option to purchase half the team, the portion held by Schott's co-owner Ken Hoffman. To A's fans tired of seeing their marquee players walk away--or, more recently, get traded--this news is manna from heaven.

Or is it? What exactly will this mean for the future of the franchise?

The most widely held belief is that this opens the door for a move from Oakland to the the more lucrative South Bay. Wolff has longtime ties to the San Jose area and has been scouting potential ballpark sites as part of his consulting gig with the A's. However, this change of ownership doesn't lower the significant hurdles such a move would face.

First of all, the Bay Area has been notoriously averse to publicly financing sports venues. Except in the case of Al Davis's voodoo. Secondly, the Giants continue to claim "territorial rights" over the San Jose area.

Now, the Merc article mentions that Wolff and baseball commissioner Bud Selig were fraternity brothers and are still friends. Could that signal a potential panty raid on the San Jose area? As we've seen previously, if the Head Used Car Salesman wants something, he'll usually get it, the engineered tomfoolery behind the Expos-Marlins-Red Sox ownership shell game a prime example. More recently, he got the Expos into Oriole territory in the Capital.

However, Selig has always sided with the Giants and owner Peter Magowan when it comes to the Bay Area market. The two combined to scuttle a proposed A's sale ten years back to a local ownership group. Selig has long maintained the A's "can't survive" in the market, in their ballpark. Astute observers see these proclaimations not as another publicly-financed ballpark extortion attempt on the populace, but as an inate desire to rid the area of the A's all together. It is difficult to believe that the fact Selig and Wolff did keg stands together 40 years ago would change this fundamental belief.

As for the potential for Wolff to be a more free-spending owner than the oft-despised Schott-Hoffman partnership, again, don't hold your breath. The recent trades of star pitchers Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder could not possibly have been made in a vacuum. Wolff already has close ties to the team and his interest in owning a share has been well-documented. Under those circumstances, is it possible Wolff directed the owners, and by proxy GM Billy Beane, to move those players? It's more possible than not. If you're 3 months away from buying a house, do you want some input into what is being done to that house? Or do you just let the current owners paint it kelly green and gold and worry about it later?

The financial realities of operating in a relatively small two-team market and a decrepit football stadium will remain. Right now, Wolff's main selling point seems to be that he's not Schott or Hoffman, who have a reputation for not being pro-active enough to change the A's fortunes. Yes, like Wolff will, they have faced obstacles. It was their seeming reluctance to tackle them head-on that alienated their fan base.

The best chance Wolff has for success will be if he parlays his enthusiasm for the team and the area into a willingness to confront the issues facing the club. Even against long odds, he'll at least get the fans behind him.

It's been quite a while since Schott and Hoffman could claim the same.


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