SAN JOSE -- If the A's ballpark saga were a film, the title would be: "Huh? Still No Answer?"
With this subtitle: "The Everlasting Slog Of Befuddlement."
Last weekend, a report surfaced that Major League Baseball had rejected the idea of an Athletics move from Oakland to San Jose, which A's owner Lew Wolff has pursued for more than five years. But the report turned out to be a false alarm created by legal mumbo jumbo.
How do we know this? Because after Wolff received the MLB letter allegedly denying him permission to build a San Jose ballpark, he's on record as still seeking a move to the South Bay.
"Nothing has changed with much of it for us," Wolff said again this week in a phone interview. "We continue to pursue the process."
I am no professor of logic. But if the MLB letter had actually instructed Wolff to totally forget about San Jose, my feeling is that he would instead be saying something like: "Well, guess I'd better totally forget about San Jose."
I asked Wolff if he could show me the MLB letter. He politely told me no. He also declined further comment on the topic. So what's going on here?
Multiple baseball sources tell me that the MLB letter simply rejected the last plan submitted by San Jose to the A's for a ballpark. There were evidently concerns about seating capacity and the stadium footprint at the proposed downtown site. The letter did not rule out potential MLB approval of a revised plan. Suspiciously, the letter was sent to the A's and Wolff by baseball's lawyers one day before San Jose filed its lawsuit against MLB. It was clearly a legal tactic of some sort.
Meanwhile, fans of the A's don't care about confusing lawyerly arguments or loud posturing. They only want to know this: Where will the Athletics be playing in the future?
For 2014 and 2015, the answer is Oakland. The A's just signed a temporary lease extension to play at O.co Coliseum for those two seasons.
After that? After pondering recent developments, I feel 100 percent confident in saying that by 2020, the A's will be playing in Oakland, San Jose, San Francisco or somewhere outside the Bay Area.
Yes, the situation truly is that wide open and comical. Let's review each option, then assess the odds:
So much East Bay rhetoric. So little meaningful action. All hopes lie in the dreamy Coliseum City project. It is supposed to include new venues for the Raiders and A's (as well as an arena) on the current O.co site. It's also supposed to be financed entirely by magic money from a Dubai investor and his partners.
The problem: Right now, first priority seems to be the Raiders, not the A's. Last week at a joint meeting of the Oakland city council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Coliseum City proposal was outlined. The first phase was a Raiders stadium in 2018 that would require demolition of the current O.co Coliseum. The second phase was commercial development. Phase three was an A's ballpark.
So where would the A's play if the Raiders' stadium is built? No one is saying. Also, the city and county are still paying off $200 million in debt on the current Coliseum and arena, which must be folded into the new billion-dollar deal. That's a lot of magic money from Dubai.
An alternate A's ballpark plan once centered on a downtown Oakland waterfront location at Howard Terminal. But that idea has evaporated -- and not just because the focus is on Coliseum City.
"Baseball has totally rejected Howard Terminal because it's totally unfeasible," Wolff said.
Hear that noise? It's the grinding of legal machinery. The city's lawsuit against MLB based on antitrust allegations was tossed out of federal court but is under appeal, while another portion of the suit proceeds at the state level. There's another hearing Friday.
All the key South Bay players remain publicly behind an A's ballpark vision for the designated property near the SAP Center. Nothing can happen, of course, until the MLB suit is resolved -- and until baseball finds an internal solution that will satisfy the Giants' territorial rights claim to Santa Clara County.
But for now, no one among the San Jose ballpark supporters seems too concerned that the East Bay will come up with a better proposal. Sam Liccardo, the San Jose City Council member who has helped spearhead the A's, said bluntly: "It may be easier to build a baseball stadium on a flying carpet than to build a baseball stadium in Oakland."
Don't laugh too loudly. Those rumors about MLB forcing the Giants to accept the A's as co-tenants at AT&T Park were not rumors. There were discussions at high levels. Of course, a shared ballpark solution would be necessary only if Oakland refuses to give the Athletics further lease extensions or rips down O.co Coliseum to build a Raiders stadium. Would Oakland be that stupid? You never know.
If that scenario develops, Major League Baseball might make a hardball pitch to the Giants: "Either agree to share your ballpark with the A's until further notice, or let them go to San Jose. Your choice."
Wolff has never threatened a move elsewhere. And one baseball source says there have been no discussions of the A's leaving the region. But at a certain point, MLB may declare the team's ballpark quest unsolvable. A new out-of-town owner might swoop in with an irresistible offer and -- poof! -- the Bay Area would become a one-team market. Horrible to contemplate.
Which brings us to my betting forecast:
Odds of the 2020 Athletics playing in a new Oakland ballpark: 25-1.
Odds of the 2020 Athletics playing in a new San Jose ballpark: 10-1.
Odds of the 2020 Athletics playing at AT&T Park: 50-1.
Odds of the 2020 Athletics playing in another part of the country: 80-1.
Odds of the 2020 Athletics still playing at decaying O.co Coliseum, with everybody still arguing about where they should move: 2-1.