Monday, March 2, 2009

Baseball contraction? If it is in the newspaper, it must be true Baseball contraction? If it is in the newspaper, it must be true
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March 2, 12:09 PM
by Evan Weiner, Business of Sports Examiner
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Back in 1977, the celluloid hero of the Slap Shot, Reggie Dunlop was eagerly showing his players on the Charleston Chiefs hockey team that Dickie Dunn wrote a newspaper story about the team moving to Florida after it became clear that the franchise would not be able to continue in Charleston because the local steel mill shut down. Chiefs fans would not have the money to spend on hockey games.

Dunlop, who had planted the story with the sportswriter to keep the spirits of his players high even though they were facing possible unemployment, told his players, “Dickie Dunn wrote this. It must be true.”

The New York Daily News baseball columnist has brought up the possibility of Major League Baseball dropping the Oakland A’s and the Florida Marlins because A’s owner Lewis Wolff struck out in his bid to build a stadium-village in Fremont, Ca., which is a little bit south on the I-880 of Oakland and the continuing struggles of Jeffrey Loria to land a baseball stadium in Florida. Madden suggests the rumblings of contraction have started although other than a column in Sunday’s Daily News, there have been no rumblings that Major League Baseball is ready to eliminate two teams.

But since it is in the paper, it must be true.

With the United States economy in shambles and with cities, counties, towns, villages, states and the federal government all struggling, now is not the best time to allocate hundreds of millions of public dollars to build baseball or football stadiums or indoor arenas.

Wolff pulled the plug on his plan to built a baseball park surrounded by commercial and residential properties in Fremont after there was a great deal of opposition to the plan.

Wolff wanted to build a 32,000-seat stadium and construct 3,150 residential units, shops, restaurants, an elementary school and a hotel. Fremont and Oakland have been said thanks but no thanks to Wolff’s plans. Wolff is taking his time and is trying to figure out what his next move will be.

Fremont is a stone’s throw from San Jose and there is some chatter that San Jose might be interested in making some sort of offer to Wolff and build a baseball park for his A’s. But it is not that simple. Wolff may know the way to San Jose is blocked by Major League Baseball.

Former A’s owner Walter Haas cannot move to San Jose without help from the San Francisco Giants ownership. In 1990, former Giants owner Bob Lurie was looking to leave San Francisco’s Candlestick Park and eyeing a move to Santa Clara. At a June 1990 owners meeting, the Giants territory was expanded beyond the 10 miles surrounding San Francisco and would include San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. On Election Day, November 1990, Santa Clara voters said no to a Giants stadium.

In 1992, San Jose voters said no to a baseball park. Even though two groups of voters in the South Bay said no to a Giants ballpark, by 1994, Major League Baseball clearly defined the territories of the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. Oakland’s exclusive territory was limited to the Easy Bay, Alameda and Contra Costa counties while the Giants ownership ended up with the west side of the bay with San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Marin counties becoming the team’s exclusive territories. Giants ownership ended up with the Santa Clara/San Jose territories even though local voters rejected the Lurie’s efforts to set up shop there. They didn’t want Luire’s Giants. For Wolff to enter San Jose, he would have to work out a deal with Major League Baseball and the Giants ownership or sue Major League Baseball in an effort to eradicate territories.

Wolff could follow two 1980s examples if he wanted to go to San Jose. His Oakland Coliseum fellow owners, the NFL Raiders Al Davis took his team to Los Angeles and got a court to agree with his move despite opposition from National Football League owners and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Donald Sterling took his National Basketball Association San Diego Clippers franchise to LA despite not getting requisite approval from his fellow NBA owners. Wolff might have a major obstacle; Major League Baseball is exempt from United States Anti-Trust laws while the NFL and NBA have to abide by those laws.

The decision to pull the plug on the ballpark-village may also have avoided a huge fiasco. Wolff might not have been able to get the money to build the entire complex.

Meanwhile, Miami elected officials will vote on a baseball stadium proposal on Friday. Miami and various Marlins owners, Wayne Huizenga, John Henry and the present one, Jeffrey Loria, have struck out with Miami and Tallahassee and former Governor Jed Bush in attempts to get funding for Marlins ballpark. The latest proposal is a $634 million park at the old Orange Bowl site. Loria has offered to pay $119 million as his share of the cost of the ballpark.

There are no suitable relocation spots for a Major League Baseball team. Loria kicked the tires in San Antonio and Las Vegas but neither is an appealing market for various reasons. Neither San Antonio nor Las Vegas as a ballpark or a big enough corporate community or TV market to support a Major League Baseball team. Without the leverage of another city bidding for a franchise, the one way Wolff or Loria can get some momentum to build a stadium in their own markets is if the threat of contraction resonates. If the Miami Commissioners say no to Loria on Friday, the contraction train may get onto the tracks and get some momentum but that only come if Major League Baseball can get whatever is left of the baseball writing community to pen columns with the theme of how now is the time to get rid of problem franchises like Oakland and Florida and how it is time to cut losses and stop throwing money into hopeless situations although Major League Baseball’s most troublesome franchise because of the failing economy and the dire financial straights of the Big 3 automakers in 2009 may be the Detroit Tigers.

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