Last month, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed sent a letter to Bud Selig.
The letter was friendly. Reed simply asked the commissioner of baseball for a general timetable of when he might finally decide whether the A's and owner Lew Wolff can pursue a new ballpark in the South Bay.
"We have to contemplate the timing of a future election," Reed explained to Selig.
The letter was dated May 10. Reed still has received no answer. So the mayor, a deceptively crafty prankster beneath his all-business exterior, has formulated an alternate plan.
"I'm thinking of going to Milwaukee for a photo op," Reed told me the other day at his city hall office.
A photo op? Yes, a photo op. It would be staged outside the Brewers' ballpark, which features a statue of Selig outside one gate. Reed wants to put an A's jersey on the statue, then pose for a picture holding an imaginary conversation.
"I think that's the only way I can talk to him," Reed said. "Unless maybe I could contact him through a medium."
A sense of humor is always better than a livid attack. But it is clear Reed is frustrated and irritated. The feeling here is, he should become even more irritated. The situation regarding the A's uncertain Bay Area future is ludicrous. In fact, it is several freeway exits past ludicrous.
More than two years ago, Selig formed and authorized a "blue ribbon" committee to investigate the A's ballpark situation in the Bay Area. Committee members subsequently visited Oakland, San Jose and Fremont. They examined proposals, pored over data, authorized marketing studies. Over 26 months, surely every piece of information to be assembled has been assembled. Selig has it all on his desk. Yet, no decision. Reed has a theory.
"I think they did all their work in six months," Reed said of the committee members. "And since then, it's been a dodge."
And not just a dodge for San Jose, remember. It also has been a dodge for fans of the A's, wherever they live. Oakland deserves to know if it should keep pursuing a ballpark proposal, even if the current scheme basically amounts to a Happy Meal with no meat. So far, lines have been drawn around a downtown site. That's about all. An environmental impact study has not been completed. There is no whiff of how Oakland would begin to pay for the property.
By comparison, San Jose's plan and site are pretty much shovel-ready, pending a successful election. But regardless, both cities are owed an answer on how to proceed before either municipality invests more time and money. That's why my next suggestion is by no means a joke:
It is time to up the ante. It is time to make noise about challenging Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption.
That, after all, is what has allowed Major League Baseball to hold the Bay Area hostage on this issue. No other sport possesses such an exemption, which dates to 1922. It has allowed MLB to act as a monopoly, restricting movement of its teams. The exemption's last legal challenge was in 1972. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to stand and ruled that only Congress could overturn the exemption. Maybe we need to think about that.
The process would start with congressional hearings. Reed has never broached that topic with either Rep. Zoe Lofgren or Rep. Mike Honda, the South Bay's congressional delegation.
"We haven't gone down that path," Reed said. "Not that we won't. But if Lew hasn't wanted to do it, we don't want to do it. I think Lew should be steaming angry."
When contacted by phone, Wolff was neither angry nor steaming. Mostly, he sounded weary. At this point, Wolff knows that a new A's ballpark -- anywhere -- realistically could be completed no sooner than 2015, when he would be approaching his 80th birthday. So unless there's a decision soon, the project will essentially belong to his son, Keith, and business partner John Fisher.
Wolff continues to take the high road, however. As is widely known, he and Selig were fraternity brothers at the University of Wisconsin. They remain close. That probably has hurt more than helped the A's ballpark quest.
How so? Selig knows he can keep delaying because Wolff won't rant or rave about it. Wolff knows that Selig has his crisis plate full, what with the ongoing ownership meltdowns regarding the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers. It's why Wolff doesn't want to hear about any antitrust challenge that would create more problems for his friend and the sport.
"I want to be an owner that puts baseball first and my own team second," Wolff said.
(He might want to discuss that philosophy with his Giants counterpart.)
For the record, Wolff did dispel a couple of rumors floating around the baseball universe, one of them being that he and Fisher are fed up and want to unload the A's.
"We're not for sale," Wolff said.
And what about the scuttlebutt that Selig is manipulating a deal to find buyers of the A's to keep the team in Oakland -- so that in turn, Wolff and Fisher can buy the troubled Dodgers at a discount?
"There's nothing to it," Wolff said. "Nothing. I deny it. I've got enough things to worry about without the aggravation of anything involving the Dodgers."
So where does that leave the A's and San Jose?
"The mayor and the City Council have done everything I've asked them to do," said Wolff.
"As long as he's optimistic, I am," Reed said. "I'm still excited about the prospects for a downtown ballpark in San Jose. But I am frustrated."
Can't wait for that photo op.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.