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MLB committee meets with Oakland, San Jose officials about future of A’s

Oakland AthleticsThe blue-chip committee appointed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was in the Bay Area last week to meet with Oakland and San Jose reps about the status of their ballpark bids and the future of the Oakland Athletics.

Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff wants to move the A’s to a new downtown San Jose ballpark, a move bitterly opposed by the San Francisco Giants ownership, whose territorial rights include Silicon Valley. The Giants and Wolff have not been able to reach an agreement for the territory; Selig’s response was to form a committee (Corey Busch, Irwin Raij and Bob Starkey) to examine the issue.

The committee was formed some 40 months ago and, while reporting regularly to Selig and other MLB officials, has not been able to make a recommendation that would satisfy all sides. What Wolff is proposing really is revolutionary in terms of MLB territorial rights: no team has ever proposed moving into an existing MLB territory and gone as far in Wolff in terms of arranging a ballpark site and working with local officials. Wolff’s move has ramifications throughout baseball: if he’s allowed to move into an existing territory, what’s to prevent the Tampa Bay Rays from moving into existing New York, Boston or Philadelphia territories? Plus, Selig has a well-known aversion to franchise moves: in the last 40 years, there’s been only one MLB team move — and that came after Selig concluded Montreal couldn’t support baseball. Even so, the move of the Expos to Washington — and into the Orioles’ territory — came at a price, with the Nats giving up plenty of revenue to Baltimore for the privilege.

The stakes are high here: the Giants say a quarter of their revenues come from Silicon Valley fans and businesses, and losing that revenue would play havoc with the team’s bottom line. So with the two sides at an impasse, the committee was back in action.

One meeting — with Oakland Mayor Lois Quan and city officials — reportedly led to the outline of a new-ballpark deal at Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, a waterfront plan that supposedly had been put aside. Other community business leaders, like developer Michael Ghielmetti and Clorox CEO Don Knauss, said there were local owners ready to step up and buy the team.

Another meeting — this one with San Jose reps — covered the state of a downtown ballpark proposal. Use of the proposed ballpark site isn’t as clear-cut as San Jose officials assume, as the state is looking at whether ownership of the parcel was illegally transferred from the city’s redevelopment agency. (California’s city and county redevelopment agencies were dissolved earlier this year, with assets transferred to the state to cover a budget deficit.) If state officials say it was, we could see a court battle over ownership of the land.

The bottom line: no ballpark bid seems sufficiently advanced to cause committee members to move quickly. No way the A’s are given permission to move when the San Jose site is under dispute, and no way the team leaves Oakland if there’s a viable ballpark plan there. We’re guessing the stalemate will continue.

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