MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Wolff optimistic about getting new ballpark

Wolff optimistic about getting new ballpark

CHICAGO -- His team is clinging to Wild Card hopes after a rough patch. His efforts to secure a new stadium in the Bay Area continue to bear no visible fruit. But A's owner Lew Wolff remains hopeful on both fronts.

Wolff does not rule out a resolution on the stadium issue before Commissioner Bud Selig leaves office in January.

"I'm a very optimistic person," Wolff told MLB.com on Tuesday. "I think if there's a path that could be a resolution, the Commissioner will find it. I'm optimistic, but I've been optimistic before."

Because the Giants were awarded territorial rights to Santa Clara County in 1990, they have blocked the Athletics' attempts to build a stadium in San Jose, which has grown to the point it is the nation's 11th largest city, bigger than San Francisco. That has left Wolff and Major League Baseball to explore stadium sites in Oakland, and the prospect of building a new stadium there has proven problematic.

Oakland mayor Jean Quan has backed the idea of a "Coliseum City" development on the site of the O.co Coliseum and 550 adjacent acres across Interstate 880 that would include a new stadium for the A's as well as facilities for the NFL's Raiders and the NBA's Warriors. But there are no financing plans in place. The bigger issue for the A's is that the Coliseum could be torn down to build a new home for the Raiders.

"The lease we just extended has the absolute right for the Raiders or the city, whoever is developing whatever they're talking about, to give us notice and ask us to leave," Wolff said. "We have two or three seasons to do that. We are not trying to force the Raiders out, but they do have the right. When I say the Raiders, I don't think it's the Raiders at all. They have a developer, some financial [interest]. I don't know what's going on there, but it's real simple. If there's a billion-dollar [football] stadium to be built there, there's a mechanical piece that they can use. The Raiders are fully protected if they want to stay there; we're not, but they are."

Wolff said the A's would have no option except to leave Oakland if the Raiders do build on the current Coliseum site. Developers have proposed a stadium at a site known as Howard Terminal, near Jack London Square, but Wolff doesn't believe it is viable, in part because of the cost of environmental cleanup.

"That is an absolute head fake," Wolff said. "If it's so good, why don't they build the Raiders there? I want to make it clear: Howard Terminal is a fiction as far as I'm concerned. No one has done the work we have looking at it, no matter what you read or hear."

Are there any other sites in Oakland?

"Absolutely none," Wolff said. "To be literal, there is no place you couldn't move. You could build a ballpark on an iceberg if you had enough money and you didn't care [if it worked]. … [But] there are no viable sites as far as our ownership is concerned, and we've studied it 10 times more than anybody else, if not 100 times more. That's not a knock on Oakland. What's wrong with the Coliseum? It's a decent land holding. We're not going to spend any more time looking at head fakes."

Wolff, a St. Louis native who lives in Los Angeles, has numerous holdings in San Jose. He has plans in place to build there or at the site of the Coliseum, where the A's have played since moving from Kansas City in 1968.

Largely because of their ongoing stadium issues, the A's and the Tampa Bay Rays have been the biggest recipients of revenue sharing in Major League Baseball. Wolff believes a new stadium would help them support themselves.

"We can grow [attendance] a million more fans a year with a decent venue," Wolff said. "That's what our projection looks like. Maybe not quite that many, but close. Potentially, revenue-wise, there are a whole lot of good things. We just need to have a clean, fun venue that creates excitement when you get there. … We have a wonderful design we can put down either in Oakland or San Jose, or if there's another location, another city, fine. We're excited about it, but we're also trying to be respectful of the process and of baseball."

Selig appointed a committee in 2009 to study the A's stadium situation. It has been unable to persuade the Giants to relinquish their territorial rights to San Jose. The situation has been complicated by San Jose suing MLB for denying the Athletics the right to move.

Wolff declined to discuss his negotiations with the Giants' ownership group.

"We and the Giants have agreed not to comment any further on that," he said. "We've been told not to."

Could Selig use his "best interest of baseball" powers to resolve the situation before he leaves office? If not, could his elected replacement, Rob Manfred, make that one of his first orders of business?

"We're hoping that the resolution would be based on the best interest of baseball, based on facts that we and the Giants submit, and somebody makes a decision," Wolff said. "We're not looking for somebody to bulldoze either one of us. I probably should have pushed on this harder, but I'm in baseball because of the current Commissioner, and the next Commissioner has been very helpful to us.

"I look at everything like a balance sheet. We've had a lot of positives. The only area we need to clean up or determine is a venue for having a better fan experience. Maybe I'm more patient than most people, but I know we're going to get there somehow, without threatening anybody."

Wolff has not explored sites for a franchise relocation, such as Las Vegas or Montreal.

"We want to stay in the Bay Area, and we plan to stay there," Wolff said. "We'll figure out how we do it, but we're not just going to say, 'Oh well, goodbye, we're leaving.' That isn't our goal. Our goal is to stay there, to be as close to the fans we've built up over the years. We consider a move within the Bay Area, not moving to Omaha or some place. Threatening to move to other cities … we don't operate that way. Maybe we're wrong for [not] doing that, but we do not operate that way.

"I don't want to upset some other city just for a head fake. Why would we? That's just not our style. I believe that we will, somewhere with the current or the next Commissioner, present a case that baseball would look at it in a judicious manner, and we'll see what happens. We like the idea of being able to look at Oakland and look at San Jose."

Territorial rights in the Bay Area were created when Santa Clara County put together a stadium measure designed to give the Giants an alternative to Candlestick Park.

The late Walter Haas, then the owner of the A's, signed off on San Jose being designated as the Giants' territory in hopes that would help the stadium measure. It failed with voters, but territorial rights remained in place.

Wolff was working behind the scenes with that effort to land the Giants, which three decades later is tying his hands.

"Unfortunately the vote didn't pass," Wolff said. "Therefore everything, in my opinion, should have gone back to the way it was before. No one at the time from the A's or any place raised any issue about Santa Clara going back to a neutral territory, and whatever evolved after that, the Giants decided to build in downtown San Francisco and keep that territory. It was probably just a mistake. The status was never put back to where it was."

After American League Division Series exits the previous two years, vice president and general manager Billy Beane stepped on the gas to reach the World Series this year with trades for Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Beane traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who was expected to reach free agency after next season, and top prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney in large part because the team's finances make it difficult to keep the core of a team together long.

"It's very tricky," Wolff said. "This whole thing is based on revenue, and we don't have the revenue opportunity that a new or great venue like the Giants [would produce]. … We try and keep our salaries somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of revenue, so obviously the higher the revenue, the higher the Major League salary. It's that simple."

Wolff wonders what Beane and his staff would do if revenues allowed him to operate with a higher payroll.

"What Billy and his guys have done is miraculous," Wolff said. "I can't ask them to do more than what they've done. Therefore the thing I'm committed to is to give them a better platform to take their skills, and I haven't delivered that yet. I'm not batting very high on the venue side."

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.