The Bay Area's four largest cities are ensnared in a battle over the future of the Oakland A's — and there's no telling who will come out on top.
A three-member committee organized by Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig will likely report to him this week on the options for building a stadium for the A's in Oakland, Fremont or San Jose. All the while the San Francisco Giants, who claim territorial rights to Santa Clara County, are watching as the process unfolds, fearing they will lose a significant share of their fan base if the team is allowed to move to San Jose.
A's co-owner and managing partner Lew Wolff has signaled his hopes of doing just that, however. And San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said a move to San Jose would benefit his city, the team and the league. "It would be a big plus for
Major League Baseball to have the team in San Jose where they will be more profitable and where they will be a net benefit for the league," he said. "In San Jose, I think everyone understands they won't be a drain on Major League Baseball. They will be a contributing factor."
The A's, with an aging and shared stadium and baseball's worst attendance in 2009, have long been searching for a new home. The team has considered building on the Coliseum's parking lot and constructing a ballpark village in Fremont, among other options. The A's walked away from Fremont a year ago amid opposition from residents and businesses, reopening the jockeying.
Reed said he hoped Wolff would "come back and take a look" at San Jose. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and City Council President Jane Brunner wrote Selig, saying they were prepared to do everything "reasonably possible" to keep the team in Oakland. And, most recently, Fremont re-entered the bidding by proposing a 36,000-seat ballpark on land owned by the NUMMI auto plant.
Dellums told a crowd of business leaders at the Hilton Oakland Airport hotel Feb. 4 that he is "cautiously optimistic" the team will stay in Oakland, predicting baseball will decline to clear the way for the A's to move to San Jose — a move that would ultimately require approval by three-quarters of baseball's owners.
"I am not sanguine on the idea that Major League Baseball would want to step into that controversy that pits the Giants (against) the A's," Dellums said. "I think owners are loathe to get involved in that."
Dellums said Oakland represents a better option than Fremont because Oakland's proposed waterfront sites would cut down on vehicle emissions and help revitalize an urban area.
"We'll see what happens with respect to the Oakland A's," he said. "I continue to be cautiously optimistic."
Officials close to the action have stayed mostly mum. Mike Teevan, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said baseball officials will not discuss the topic for now. The Giants and the A's also declined to comment.
But Wolff didn't parse words in a recent USA Today interview.
"It's like we're being held hostage," he said in a Dec. 31 report. "We tried to make it work in Oakland. We exhausted everything we could in our area. It can't work. For us to compete, we've got to have revenue, and for us to get revenue we have to move to San Jose."
It is easy for some people to see why San Jose is an attractive option. It is the only California city north of Los Angeles with more than 1 million people, having more than doubled in population in less than 40 years.
It is wealthier than Oakland, and a move to San Jose would provide the A's with new corporate sponsorship opportunities in Silicon Valley. Such factors could prove particularly important given that a stadium, wherever it is built, will likely be financed primarily or entirely through private funding sources.
"The message we're hearing from CEOs is that San Jose is a major league city," said Carl Guardino, president and CEO of Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which was founded by David Packard in 1977. "The Silicon Valley is the innovation capital of the world. Whether it was the Giants in the early 1990s, or the A's today, (the CEOs) support a major league stadium."
Guardino's remarks were based on a survey that was taken last spring. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has not formally endorsed the idea of the A's moving to San Jose, he said.
San Jose is currently reviewing plans to develop a 32,000-seat ballpark on a 14-acre plot of land near Diridon Station, across from HP Pavilion, where the San Jose Sharks play. A new stadium would be subject to approval by San Jose voters if the city spends money on the project or gives part or all of the land to the team in a development deal.
In Oakland, city officials and team boosters have been pushing history — four World Series championships and Hall of Fame players such as Rollie Fingers, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Eckersley and Rickey Henderson.
"It's a tremendous history that we can't forget," Doug Boxer, a planning commissioner and co-leader of the group Let's Go Oakland, said when the city unveiled three potential waterfront ballpark sites near Jack London Square.
But more than just nostalgia, Oakland supporters are pushing the idea that if A's management builds a baseball-only stadium in Oakland and recommits itself to A's fans, people will flock to games and business opportunities will open up across the East Bay. It happened for the Giants with AT&T Park, they say. Why can't it happen in Oakland?
Efforts to keep the team have drawn the support of some of the East Bay's largest companies, including Clorox, Kaiser Permanente, Matson, Bay Alarm and Signature Properties.
"We're hoping to send the message that (the A's) can find support in the business community," said Mike Ghielmetti, president of Signature Properties, which has plans for a major development near one of the sites where Oakland says it can build a new ballpark. "We want to keep the A's in Oakland as a matter of civic pride, as a matter of good business and as a matter of the long-term redevelopment of the city."
Fremont, meanwhile, is trying to revive its chances after the NUMMI auto plant announced plans to close last year. The proposed Fremont ballpark would be placed between Interstates 880 and 680 and near the Warm Springs BART station, scheduled for completion in 2014.
Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said his city's location between Oakland and San Jose makes it the perfect city for a park that could draw from both markets — and beyond. "It's a super location for the A's fan base," Wasserman said. "We can draw from the San Jose area, from the Oakland area and from the Tri-Valley area."
Should baseball refuse to give the go-ahead for the A's to move to San Jose, Fremont, which is in the A's territory, could be an option for the team.
No clear timeline
The commissioner's committee is expected to discuss the ballpark sites, the cities' abilities to make infrastructure improvements, market and corporate vitality, and the politics surrounding a possible move, numerous sources said.
It's not clear the meeting with Selig will yield an immediate decision or even a recommendation on the future home of the A's. The commissioner's reputation is one of a deliberative executive — the type who would want to avoid a messy public fight between the A's and Giants.
San Francisco so far has clung to the Giants' territorial rights, and in December San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera wrote a letter to Selig expressing "grave concern" over a potential A's move to San Jose, which Herrera said would hurt San Francisco's financial interests.
But Stanford economist Roger Noll, an authority on the business of professional sports, does not see the territorial rights issue as a death knell for the A's designs on San Jose. He believes the matter can be settled for the right price: $20 million or $30 million.
"My expectation is eventually they will move. How long it will take to move, I don't know," Noll said. "Among all the options the most likely is San Jose."
Retired biotechnology executive Marty Glick, a longtime A's fan and co-leader of Let's Go Oakland with Boxer, hopes not.
"With all due respect to San Jose," he said, "Why would you put a ballpark in the middle of concrete when you could put it on the waterfront?"
Glick, like most others, won't go too far out on a limb to guess what happens next.
"We've made our argument," he said. "Will they buy it? Stay tuned."