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Beware folks peddling simple solutions to complex problems

Oakland A'sKen Rosenthal and Scott Boras say the solution to the financial issues faced by the Oakland A’s is simple: MLB should just let the team move to San Jose. But, alas, the solution isn’t all that simple, and the issue is considerably more complex than just appeasing Lew Wolff: it goes to the very financial structure of baseball.

Whether you agree with him or not, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is most often guided by baseball’s traditions and bylaws, and of the most important legalities of the game is the primacy of territories and the rules surrounding them. True, they do serve the status quo (i.e., the rich and powerful teams): they don’t allow the Tampa Bay Rays to set up shop in the backyards of the Mets and Yankees, for instance. But they also serve in the interests of fans in smaller market — i.e., those Rays fans who would probably lose their team to New Jersey or Connecticut if territorial rules did not exist.

That’s why it’s been such a prolonged process in Lew Wolff’s attempt to move the A’s out of Oakland: after being rebuffed by Fremont, he’s set his sights on San Jose, which is squarely within the San Francisco Giants territory. Not surprisingly, San Francisco ownership isn’t thrilled with losing a prime chunk of their territory to a financial rival. In an article for, Rosenthal argues that the only way to solve the A’s financial issues is for Selig to allow the move to San Jose:

The Giants, who hold territorial rights to San Jose’s home county, Santa Clara, only because the A’s were kind enough to surrender them in the early 1990s, when the San Francisco team was exploring a move to the area.

Appeasing the Giants will not be easy — their owner, Bill Neukom, took over the club in 2008 with the knowledge that San Jose was part of the team’s territory. He understandably does not want to lose sponsorship opportunities or diminish the value of his club in any way.

Well, Lew Wolff bought the A’s with the knowledge that San Jose was part of San Francisco’s territory, too. And he knew about the well-established territorial rules when he bought the team.

Rosenthal’s major flaw is that he doesn’t acknowledge the multiple stakeholders here: he’s arguing for a move that would enrich Lew Wolff and quoting Scott Boras about a move that would enrich Scott Boras. But there are a multitude of stakeholders here. The Giants ownership, who went out on a limb to finance their own ballpark and need the revenues necessary to address debt. The city of Oakland, working hard to build a new ballpark. A’s fans, who have supported the team through the years. For all the chatter from the press, teams do not frequently move.

But the biggest set of stakeholders, perhaps: the other team MLB owners who rely on the existing business structure to make a go of it. You can bet the Steinbrenners and the Henrys wouldn’t be happy with a precedent where an existing owner can move into a existing territory on his own. Can a deal be struck? Perhaps, but we’re not aware of any efforts to buy off the Giants, though we’re sure that would need to be done if a deal is struck. Wolff has a legitimate gripe in how long the process is taking, as it shouldn’t take two years for a committee to figure out the best course for the A’s while balancing the best interests of baseball. Don’t underestimate how important the primacy of territories are in baseball and why Selig is loathe to step in and overturn them: the ramifications would be felt far beyond the Bay Area.

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