Will Lew Wolff Offer a Stadium Plan?


Lew Wolff, as the comment section of this post will surely attest, is a polarizing figure among Athletics fans. Admittedly, not many, if any, people love the guy but there are those who absolutely hate him and those who are fairly indifferent. There seems to be an unrealistic expectation that because A’s owners are rich and the team is making money that they should be spending their own money or not taking a paycheck in order to support this team, neglecting to acknowledge that nobody gets rich by spending their own money and working for free.

It was this sentiment that has led many to believe that Lew Wolff is more interested in collecting his paycheck than he was in building a new stadium in Oakland. It was clear that he was interested in moving to San Jose but with no real headway ever coming through and his unwillingness to pursue legal action to make it happen it is safe to say that even Lew Wolff has abandoned that dream.

Wolff has also, on several occasions, made it very clear that they have no intention of leaving the bay area. I have long proposed Walnut Creek or Dublin as suitable alternatives to Oakland that would be within their own territorial rights but it is unknown if the A’s ownership group have ever pursued a city other than San Jose and Fremont from several years ago.

So why hasn’t Lew Wolff been actively working on a plan for Oakland? Because he couldn’t, legally, until last Tuesday. Wolff has made it quite clear that he’s not interested in Howard Terminal, Lake Merritt or any other site in Oakland unless it was the current site. Unfortunately for Lew, the current site was reserved under an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement with the folks who want to build Coliseum City. As long as that ENA was in effect, the Raiders and the Athletics were legally forbidden from making their own proposals for the site. It’s basically grownups yelling “dibs” or “shotgun”.

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The only way that either team could get involved with the negotiation would be for them to sign up for Coliseum City but, at that point, they’d just be offering their two cents and wouldn’t have the stake that they’d desire in the designing of the project. It is not beyond the realm of understanding to see why the Raiders or A’s wouldn’t want to sign on with this because, in essence, they are being told how to spend their money.

With the expiration of that ENA looming, newly elected mayor Libby Schaaf urged the powers that be to extend the ENA under the provision that they could hear proposals from the Raiders and the Athletics. This, for the first time, is Lew Wolff’s opportunity to give his plan for the site. Sadly, it’s going to pit two teams against each other, especially if Oakland keeps living under the delusion that the Warriors may just stay in Oakland and somebody is going to come out the loser.

The nitty gritty details of all of this are reported at newballpark.org and there are several blogs and Twitter feeds that provide a counterpoint to that site’s findings including baseballoakland.com. The fact of the matter, to all the fans who say Lew Wolff has done nothing, is that Wolff actively pursued Fremont actively pursued San Jose and when neither of those worked was legally locked out from actively pursuing the sole Oakland site he was interested in.

Further, we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors among A’s owners but it is safe to assume that some amount of preparation for an Oakland stadium has been done in the event that the ENA expired or, as has happened, they were somehow allowed to partake in the festivities. Mark Davis, owner of the Raiders, has been at least equally, if not more, quiet on the matter and both owners have been playing a game of chicken to see who would fire first. The ugly truth is that the Raiders plan is going to put out the A’s and the A’s plan is going to put out the Raiders. If you’re in a three way negotiation such as this, it’s probably wise to play your cards close to your chest and just see how things pan out.

Lew Wolff has a lease for 10 years at the coliseum and is making improvements to the park as we speak. He has exhibited at least a basic willingness to work with the city of Oakland, with those negotiations taking place under the “leadership” of Mayor Quan, and seems more capable of having a civil dialog with the new leadership in Oakland. Schaaf has come right out and said that her preference is to keep both teams in Oakland but it’ll have to be the A’s first (as I reported here) so with that type of dialog going on in the public, Lew Wolff has no reason to show his hand earlier than he absolutely needs to and Mark Davis is holding on to call her bluff.

As always happens in these affairs, someone will come out a victor and at this point the odds are stacked, at least a hair, in the Oakland A’s favor. Lew Wolff pushing around his proposal in the face of this ENA may have pleased his detractors but could have done irreparable damage to the political process that we’re all forced to endure for, what feels like, decades on end.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re going to be mad at A’s ownership, there are a slew of other reasons to do so but the ballpark issue maybe should go on the back burner until we see if Lew can produce a proposal for Oakland that the board is likely to approve, that the team can afford and that will better serve the fans of the greatest team in baseball. With San Jose completely out of the picture and no other cities in the bay area throwing their hat in the ring, the A’s ownership would be total idiots to not have at least the kernels of a proposal already in motion and while idiots may become billionaires, they rarely stay that way into their elder years.

Next: Our chat with the founder of NewBallpark.org