Yesterday, Bud Selig acknowledged that the A’s and Rays need new ballparks. At this stage of things, this is a bit like acknowledging that humans need air to breathe or that bears are unlikely to understand particle physics. Oakland has rarely been a good draw, even when playing well, and the Rays have never drawn well at all. The season after making the World Series, the Rays rose to 11th in total attendance. They have been as high as seventh.
Selig commended the Rays for their go-slow approach:
Stu Sternberg [is] talking to people. He and I have had many conversations, and we'll just monitor the situation. He's doing what he should do. He's there, he's talking to all parties trying to see what he can do.
Simultaneously, he criticized the A’s for not solving their problem on their own:
I'm always hopeful when there are debates amongst clubs, I try to lead teams in a direction of solving their problems themselves… However, this group has an interesting comment whenever they get in trouble: 'That's why you're here, Commissioner.' That's what they tell me. I don't know that that's a particularly good answer.
That is the sound of a commissioner punting. The A’s know what they want to do: get out of Dodge and head to San Jose. The problem is that the Giants own the territorial rights, and Selig himself, and a commission he appointed, haven’t forced them to make any kind of concession, or even ruled against the A’s. The issue just sits, awaiting resolution.
Not that a resolution is obvious; the Giants just don’t want the A’s anywhere near them. Columnist Ray Ratto nicely summed up the Giants’ feeling towards the A’s back in March: “If I could convince Mom and Dad to stop feeding you so you would die and I could bury you in the backyard, I would.” Nor will the A’s get much help from other clubs, because no team would want to set a precedent that would see the integrity of territorial rights eroded.
Meanwhile, inasmuch as the Rays have failed to draw at Tropicana Field, where they have a lease that lasts through 2027. They aren’t going anywhere fast, and there is nowhere to go anyway given the Tampa-St. Petersburg bifurcation.
In an ideal world, both of these teams would have some other choices, but given the state of the economy and the dubious benefits of public financing for private sports teams—they largely don’t exist—most municipalities are unlikely to shower these teams with the kind of financial help they will want to build a park. Even if there were such a place, they wouldn’t necessarily have the market to support a team. The top 18 television markets are taken. Other promising spots, such as New Jersey, are already tied up in territorial rights. Relocating teams have the option of choosing ever-smaller markets, which is not a path towards financial success.
Thus, Selig’s remarks are just the latest update on a situation that he doesn’t know how to resolve because it isn’t resolvable. The A’s may ultimately have to sue baseball to get moving, or San Jose would have to sue to threaten baseball’s anti-trust exemption. Neither path is clean, pleasant or promises a quick resolution. In short, move along, nothing to see here.