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Bud Selig and the Oakland A's New Stadium: A Lack of Leadership and Courage

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Bud Selig and the Oakland A's New Stadium: A Lack of Leadership and Courage
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MLB Commissioner Allen H. (Bud) Selig

Two years ago, while the Oakland Athletics ownership team of Lewis Wolff and John Fisher failed to gain approval for a brand new stadium in Fremont, CA, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig took the bold and aggressive step of creating a committee with the purpose of finding a place for the Oakland A's to build their new stadium. 

At the time Selig announced this new task force, he stated that this would be the way to bring the A's into the 21st century with a state-of-the-art ballpark to replace the old and depressing Overstock.com Coliseum (known by many A's fans as "the Mausoleum").

Two years later, and the A's are still stuck in the 20th century; no decision has been made regarding a new stadium.  The decision for Selig and his committee, in the eyes of many, was whether the A's could find a viable alternative in the city of Oakland, or if it would be best for the A's to move about 40 miles south down to San Jose. 

A's owners Fisher and Wolff have argued that they exhausted all leads within Oakland and that there are no viable places to build a stadium—they want a park in San Jose.  The City of Oakland has pushed to keep the A's in town, but only under new mayor Jean Quan.  Previous administrations had mostly rejected pleas from the A's to build a stadium.  The City of San Jose has openly lobbied for the A's to move there with Mayor Chuck Reed leading the campaign.

Junko Kimura/Getty Images
A's owner Lewis Wolff

Despite the superficially obvious solution (the A's move to San Jose), there remains a significant obstacle—the San Francisco Giants were given territorial rights over Santa Clara County (where San Jose is located) and they are not giving up their rights.  This defending of territory by the Giants has created a bitter taste in the mouths of A's fans because the Giants only own Santa Clara County because A's ownership allowed the Giants to take control of the area (which was originally shared between the two clubs) because they desired to create a stadium down there in the 1980's. 

Obviously, the Giants never moved to San Jose, but that hasn't prevented them from blocking a potential A's move.

Adding to the growing bitterness of the A's fans, is a news report that surfaced in The Modesto Bee.  Supermarket mogul Bob Piccinini attempted to purchase the A's in the early 2000s; however, he argues his attempts were blocked by the San Francisco Giants, who—he claims—urged Selig and MLB not to allow his purchase of the club. 

Piccinini hinted at collusion between the Giants and MLB to essentially run the A's out of the Bay Area. 

Piccinini backs his claim with statements from Giants executives who he knew, in addition to Selig's comments that allowing the A's to move to Oakland was a "mistake."  There is, however, no hard evidence to prove such a claim.

A's fans can be angry and frustrated with many people: Oakland A's owners Wolff and Fisher, the City of Oakland or the Giants.  In reality, however, the real blame lies at the feet of Commissioner Bud Selig.  The most powerful man in baseball has shown no real leadership or initiative with regards to getting the Oakland A's a new stadium.

Two years to "study" the issue of where the A's can build a stadium is gross incompetence.  Either the City of Oakland has a viable place to house the A's new ballpark, or it doesn't.  If it does not, then the only other cities large enough to support a stadium are Fremont and San Jose.  A plan in Fremont fell through, so that leaves San Jose.

The Giants' territorial rights, while a stumbling point, are not a serious problem.  Rights can be negotiated away for a fee, the Commissioner can override the rights if he wanted to or the rights can be overridden by a vote by the league owners.  Yet, Selig had taken no visible action to try and remedy this issue.

The A's and their fans deserve closure.  For MLB to continue to twiddle their thumbs and to claim that they are still investigating is not good enough.  There are two good scenarios that both involve a ballpark, and one bad one. 

The bad scenario is limbo, the state the A's are in right now.  Uncertainty over the location of the team has driven away fans and corporate sponsors.  It hinders the team's ability to attract free agents and to keep their own homegrown talent. 

If there is a place to build a stadium in Oakland, Selig should tell the team and tell their fans.  If there is not, then Selig needs to take a stand and tell the Giants to work out a deal or he will remove their territorial rights.

The waiting game produces conspiracy theories like that the Giants, Selig and MLB are attempting to drive the A's out of the Bay Area, or that the A's are set to be wiped out of baseball via contraction.

It is time for baseball to make a decision.  The A's, their fans and the cities of Oakland and San Jose deserve it.

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