IT HAPPENED again this week. When Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder were so rudely traded away by the Oakland A's, a new batch of e-mails rolled in from frustrated fans imploring Steve Schott to sell the club ... preferably to the richest plausible candidate, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

Ellison, the swashbuckling billionaire software magnate, is an extremely popular guy among Bay Area sports fans these days. He tried to rescue the San Francisco 49ers by making an offer to buy them in October, but was told by John and Denise DeBartolo York they weren't for sale. Drat.

Ellison himself related that in being refused the 49ers purchase, he had made a prior attempt to buy the Golden State Warriors, too, which no doubt gave some of their long-standing, long-suffering season-ticketholders hot flashes. But Chris Cohan apparently told Ellison the W's weren't for sale, either. Double drat.

Reportedly, certified sports-nut Ellison now has his sights set on an NFL expansion team in Los Angeles.

So, to those A's fans who would love nothing more than to see their favorite local billionaire swoop in and save their team from slow-drip annihilation, sorry. You'll just have to wait in line, just as you would at the mall for that other Santa Claus.

The big lie, of course, is that Ellison could make a dramatic difference. Oh sure, he would tell you that, and that's primarily what draws sports fans to this guy. He's arrogant, and more importantly, he's aggressive.


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People not only swoon over his cash — depending on the day on Wall Street, Ellison's net worth has been guesstimated to be around $50 billion — they like his cutthroat attitude. Ellison's credo is that he not only wants to succeed but he also wants everyone else to fail miserably.

Little wonder fans see Ellison as a panacea for their ailing franchises. They have this warped vision that Ellison could turn the A's or Giants into Yankees West, where money would be no object and good players not only wouldn't be stolen away anymore, but also other teams' superstars could be stolen, for a change.

Maybe, but highly unlikely. First, money doesn't buy happiness in professional sports. Ask Paul Allen, the man who made billions at Microsoft yet hasn't been able to turn the Seattle Seahawks or the Portland Trail Blazers into winners, even after building staggeringly beautiful palaces for his teams to play and hiring what were perceived to be the best possible management teams.

Ask Daniel Snyder, who has used every corporate-shark tactic in the book to try to lift the Washington Redskins into the limelight, yet has bombed at every turn.

Ask Rupert Murdoch, the communications czar who bought the Los Angeles Dodgers and everyone thought it was the apocalypse, especially when FOX went right out and spent more than $100 million on Kevin Brown.

But when the Dodgers subsequently languished, Murdoch was painted in the L.A. media as a guy who had the cash but not the caring to make the Dodgers perennial champions.

Now, interestingly, they're bitching about new Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, whom they claim cares plenty but lacks the bucks. Sheesh, they're never happy down there.

Clearly, even though most claim they detest him, every fan sees George Steinbrenner as the model of the owner they want for their team, a guy who spares no expense on his team for his city.

But that, too, is an illusion. Steinbrenner doesn't so much own the New York Yankees as the rich New York media market that provides the revenue that enables him to have a $200 million payroll and still turn a profit. If Steinbrenner owned the A's, he wouldn't have a $100 million payroll, let alone a $200 million.

Even if they have untold resources, billionaires don't like operating their businesses at a consistent financial loss. They didn't become billionaires doing business like that. Larry Ellison might buy the 49ers or A's, and they'd be a lot more comfortable. They might get those glistening new stadiums built .. and a few more stars.

But win? Absolutely no guarantees. People see Ellison as the next Ed DeBartolo. But to become Eddie D., Ellison would have to hire the next Bill Walsh, who could in turn find the next Joe Montana and Co.

Face it, there's just as much chance he'd hire the next Joe Thomas or Terry Donahue. And he'd have to combat the league's salary cap, which Eddie never did.

If Ellison bought the A's, he'd still need someone like Billy Beane to run a bold, cutting-edge baseball operation and the best accountant he could find.

You want a great sports owner? Forget how many millions or even billions he or she has. Find somebody who knows how to hire a terrific management team and is then smart enough to get out of its way.

If nothing else, Schott has succeeded on that count where John York and Chris Cohan have failed. Cash had very little to do with it, really.

Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or by e-mail at csteward@angnewspapers.com