Lew Wolff is Not the Devil

Much has been written about Lew Wolff. He is, possibly, the most polarizing figure in the Oakland Athletics organization in recent years and, possibly, the most misunderstood. To fully understand Lew Wolff, though, you must start by remembering that he is not the “owner of the A’s” as is often reported. Lew Wolff on of many owners in the Oakland Athletics Ownership Group with the majority share holder, by a large margin, being John Fisher.

Lew Wolff is, however, the public face of the ownership group and is tasked with speaking on behalf of the interests of the entire party therefore he is often attributed with being “the man in charge.”

Athletics fans, in general, tend to believe that team owners should: A) manage the team with their heart and not their business acumen and B) take money out of their own pockets to bankroll the players. That’s not a fair way to look at sports owners, though. While owning a baseball team might be a dream or a passion for Lew Wolff and company, at the end of the day it is a business investment and must be treated as such. No successful business person pours their own fortune into an investment that is thriving. Let’s say Lew Wolff decided to pocket the payroll for the A’s and spent $150 Million a year on players next year and the team came in dead last (it could happen, look at the Angels and Rangers in the past decade). All of those superstar players aren’t going to boost attendance or increase revenue if they’re losing and now the organization is struggling and Wolff has a hard time recouping his extra investment. Do you really want owners who are in danger of being broke? 

Then there is the matter of San Jose. In the past week the San Jose city council approved a lease option extension for the Oakland Athletics. This had some fans up in arms because it appears, on the surface, that Lew Wolff is backing out of his commitment to stay in Oakland. This is ridiculous, from a business owners standpoint. If you owned a flower shop on First Street and your landlord was saying, “we might build a new shopping center or we might tear it down so that we can build a Walmart,” but a landlord on Second Street said, “we’ve got a place for your store if things don’t work out on First Street,” you’d be an idiot to close the door on the Second Street proposition.

Having the lease option extension does nothing to further the progress of a San Jose stadium. There’s still the matter of territorial rights and MLB approval to deal with before anything can happen in San Jose. What it does do is offer the A’s an alternative in the very possible instance that Oakland can’t get their act together. Under Mayor Quan, I don’t believe a new stadium would ever have been built and under mayor elect Libby, it will clearly have to be financed privately. With uncertainty over the Raiders plans, financial commitments, location details, and a slew of other issues in Oakland, it would be silly for A’s ownership not to at least have a tentative alternative for their organization. If you fail to plan, plan to fail as they say and lack of a backup plan (a term I use reluctantly since there is not forefront plan either) could find the A’s scrambling to find a home if things move in certain directions with Coliseum City.

All of that being said, I’m not a huge Lew Wolff fan. I think he uses the media and his image as an “I want out” owner to bully negotiations and I think that within the financial constraints of the organization more money could be spent on payroll but I don’t fault them for not dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into fixing up the O.co and I don’t blame them for speaking with San Jose. I also believe that had Lew Wolff managed his political dealings and public persona a bit better, we may have already built a new park in Fremont but that’s for another article.

The long and short of it is this; Lew Wolff is going to do what he feels is best for the team from a financial standpoint because it’s a business investment and he’s not doing it alone. There have been plenty of team owners that have bankrupted teams, diminished their value and tarnished their name, Lew Wolff hasn’t done any of those things. Is he the perfect owner? No. Is he the worst owner? Absolutely not and A’s fans need to take their heart out of the equation from time to time and realize that Lew Wolff didn’t make his bajillions of dollars by throwing money down the drains…unless that’s what’s causing all the problems in Oakland when it rains.