The A's road to San Jose is warming up. Not totally burning. Not yet. But if the Nimitz Freeway pavement feels a little hotter these days, there's a reason:
Major League Baseball could finally be close to a decision on whether A's owner Lew Wolff can pursue his wish to relocate in the South Bay. As my good friend, the Magic 8-Ball, once said: "Signs point to yes."
It has been more than a year since a special blue-ribbon panel was assigned to investigate whether an A's move southward is a good idea. The panel has been reporting regularly to commissioner Bud Selig.
During his annual round of visits to spring training camps, the commissioner was reportedly buttonholing certain key owners to discuss the issue. One baseball source affirms that Selig's decision on the matter will arrive between opening day and July 1.
About time. Anyone who regularly visits this corner of the newspaper knows of my proudly obnoxious and consistent views. Assuming the deal makes sense for local citizens, the A's playing in downtown San Jose is a no-brainer idea. And this week's Mercury News poll showed positive support for a privately financed ballpark on publicly donated property.
I know this much: No matter what Selig's ultimate decision is, you will hear a lot of false chatter when it's announced. The curveball myths, I call them. Let's round them up and debunk them with the fastball truths:
1. Curveball Myth: The Giants control
Fastball Truth: No, they don't. Major League Baseball regulates the territorial rights to all markets. In 1992, MLB granted the Giants the rights to operate in Santa Clara County when a referendum was on the ballot to build a Giants ballpark in San Jose. After the referendum failed, the A's failed to ask that Santa Clara County again be declared "neutral territory," so the Giants retained those rights.
2. Curveball Myth: The territorial rights are set in stone.
Fastball Truth: Hardly. The rights can be overturned by a 75 percent vote of the owners. And over history, a lot of horse-trading has occurred. Before 1958, the Boston Red Sox had the territorial rights to San Francisco — so when the New York Giants wanted to move west, MLB owners crafted and voted in a plan to have the Giants exchange their territorial rights to Minneapolis-St. Paul to the Red Sox for permission to move to San Francisco.
In this case, the A's might be forced to pay some penance for moving to San Jose. The template could be the considerations received by the Baltimore Orioles when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington.
3. Curveball Myth: The A's are abandoning Oakland because Wolff never wanted to stay there.
Fastball Truth: It's more a case of Oakland abandoning the A's — beginning in 1994, when Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann purchased the franchise from the Haas family. Schott and Hofmann wanted to remodel the Coliseum with the city's help but were rebuffed because the Raiders were moving back to Oakland and the city's money was being spent on the NFL team.
Later, the Warriors received assistance from Oakland to remodel their arena. After Wolff bought the A's in 2005, he tried to work with the city on a ballpark project that would have also redeveloped the entire area around the Coliseum — but received little cooperation. Only then did Wolff first investigate Fremont and later San Jose. It's simply the result of Oakland ignoring its MLB team in favor of its NFL and NBA teams — and paying the consequences.
The recent scrambling attempts to find a new Oakland site are basically half-baked and too late.
4. Curveball Myth: The Giants' business would be adversely impacted if the A's moved to San Jose.
Fastball Truth: No one really knows for sure. But the blue-ribbon panel is surely addressing that issue. Keep in mind, though: If Wolff builds his ballpark on the proposed San Jose site, that would place the A's and Giants farther apart than any two teams in any other two-team market. In fact, the San Jose ballpark site is even farther from AT&T Park than the Washington Nationals' ballpark is from Camden Yards in Baltimore.
The Giants have plenty of fans in Santa Clara County — but obviously, no one would be stopping those people from still attending Giants games if the A's moved to San Jose. Plus, would A's fans in Marin County and the northern part of the East Bay be more likely to make the drive to San Jose or would they start going to more Giants games instead?
5. Curveball Myth: Building a downtown San Jose ballpark would be a slam dunk if the commissioner gives his approval.
Fastball Truth: Nice thought, despite the sports mixed metaphor. But these projects are never, ever easy to complete. There are a lot of moving parts. San Jose's redevelopment agency faces challenges just like every other civic entity in this economy.
Purchasing the final land parcels for the ballpark will require financial dexterity. The ballpark site neighbors (including the Sharks at HP Pavilion) must also be satisfied. Wolff, though, says he is eager to work with the city to get going. The political will seems to be there. So does the public support. Now, it's all up to Selig.
Please create no potholes in the Nimitz pavement, Mr. Commissioner.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com or 408-920-5092.