Well, what did you expect San Jose to do? Sit around for another four years while Major League Baseball dithers in the on-deck circle, showing no signs of ever stepping to the plate?

The city's choice to file antitrust action Tuesday against MLB regarding the A's ballpark situation was no spur-of-the-moment deal. It was a thoughtfully audacious move. It is designed to wrest the issue away from commissioner Bud Selig and move it into a courthouse -- where the issues can be debated out in the open, rather than behind closed doors by Selig's executive committee of owners.

And the strategy just might work.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed San Jose ballpark, looking east toward the downtown skyline.
An artist's rendering of the proposed San Jose ballpark, looking east toward the downtown skyline.

The basic question raised by the lawsuit is this: Why shouldn't San Jose residents be free to choose whether they can or should build a downtown ballpark -- instead of having that choice be controlled entirely by MLB and the San Francisco Giants, who claim territorial rights to Santa Clara County and the South Bay?

Sam Liccardo, the San Jose City Council member, first raised the antitrust possibility a few months ago. He had a compelling argument. San Jose has been an excellent team player in all of this up to now.

To review: The city waited with tolerance as MLB formed a "blue-ribbon panel" in 2009 to analyze the A's ballpark situation in Oakland, plus the request by owner Lew Wolff to move to San Jose. But after four years with no resolution, San Jose ran out of patience.

"Four years isn't just a long time to wait for a decision," Liccardo said. "It's a long time to keep a straight face about the idea that baseball is even going to reach a resolution about all this. Major League Baseball makes the United States Congress look positively efficient by comparison."

The final straw might have been when a recent request by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to meet personally with Selig on the matter was rebuffed, with the commissioner telling Reed to contact the "blue-ribbon panel" -- the same one that has spent four years spinning its wheels.

At Tuesday's announcement of the lawsuit, Reed was asked if he was concerned about creating a rift between the city and Major League Baseball.

"I'm not worried about a rift," Reed said. "I'm standing up for the citizens of San Jose. ... It's pretty odd for this to be the only city in America that's not permitted to become the home for a major league team."

If nothing else, San Jose's move might goad Selig and the other owners into action. No corporation, even one as rich as MLB, likes to spend money defending itself. And the lead lawyer for San Jose, Joseph Cotchett, has a national track record of challenging companies and corporations to the max. He's taking this case on a contingency basis, at no cost to San Jose taxpayers.

"This is not really a legal issue," Cotchett said Tuesday. "This is a moral issue."

Cotchett is one of those attorneys who never met a sound bite he didn't like. He twice raised the specter of putting Selig on a witness stand to explain why the Bay Area's largest city should be prevented from reaping the economic benefits of a major league ballpark.

In an expected response, an MLB lawyer called San Jose's suit "unfounded." But precedent could be on San Jose's side.

Or maybe you don't remember 1992. That's when MLB stopped Giants owner Bob Lurie from selling the franchise to a Florida group. Selig stepped in and encouraged Peter Magowan to cobble together a new ownership consortium. Lurie was then forced to sell the Giants at a discount to the Magowan group -- which went on to build AT&T Park and have vast success.

For Bay Area fans, the story ended there. But in Tampa and St. Petersburg, officials were outraged. They filed an antitrust case against MLB. After some back-and-forth in the courts, Tampa Bay was granted an expansion franchise that became the Rays.

"Baseball tended to yield to that sort of flag-waving," said Bill Mullins, author of "Becoming Big League," a book about another team spawned from an antitrust case -- the Seattle Mariners.

In 1969, the expansion Seattle Pilots abandoned the city after only one season. Politicians of Washington filed an antitrust case against baseball. After six years of depositions and blustering, the case finally came to trial. Three days into the proceedings, as owners mangled their testimony, a settlement was reached. Seattle was granted a new expansion team that became the Mariners.

San Jose's daring move Tuesday could lead to years of legal wrangling, similar to the Seattle case. But who says MLB would have done anything over the next four years, anyway? The Giants could keep digging in and stonewalling. The big picture is paramount here, even if the A's ultimately can't get a ballpark built and leave the Bay Area. Let's say that 30 or 40 years from now, another baseball franchise wants to move to San Jose. Could the Giants still stifle that deal? How preposterous would that be?

"This is about much more than Lew Wolff and his team," Liccardo said. "It's about San Jose's right of self-determination and its ability to develop the best interests for its citizens, free from the interference of San Francisco billionaires and their lawyers and lobbyists."

Make no mistake. This legal strategy by the City Council is just the start of a protracted, involved, drawn-out extra-inning game. But it finally might yield the most sensible solution: a downtown San Jose ballpark. If that happens in 2025 instead of 2018, fair enough. Right now, a South Bay ballpark can't happen at all. Tuesday's lawsuit makes it far more likely.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.

On A1

San Jose lawsuit accuses MLB of a "blatant conspiracy" to deprive the city of a major league team.

ONLINE EXTRA

A's players react to San Jose's lawsuit. http://www.ibabuzz.com/athletics/