MLB Commissioner Bud Selig prepares for pregame ceremonies on opening… (Wilfredo Lee / Associated…)
Of all the indignities visited upon Frank McCourt over the last couple years — fan boycotts, pickets outside Dodger Stadium, "Frankrupt" T-shirts — McCourt never had to pick up a copy of the Los Angeles Times and stare at a full-page advertisement in which fans demanded he mind his manners or sell the Dodgers.
But, hundreds of miles to the north, another fed-up fan base had its say last week. In a full-page ad in the Oakland Tribune, under the headline "An Open Letter to John Fisher, Majority Owner of theOakland A's," Fisher was urged to commit to a new stadium in Oakland or sell the team to someone who would.
It has been three years and two months since Commissioner Bud Selig told the Athletics to stand down and let him handle their stadium dilemma. The fans have lost patience. The A's have lost patience.
The perception is that the franchise rots while Selig fiddles. The reality is that the eternally patient Selig has lost patience too.
Baseball's owners gather this week in New York, with the Dodgers sold and McCourt gone. That leaves a resolution for the A's — and their antagonists, the San Francisco Giants — as perhaps the most pressing league issue.
The A's want to move to San Jose. The Giants claim San Jose as their territory and want the A's to stay in Oakland. The A's say they long ago exhausted their options for a new ballpark in Oakland.
Selig is in his third decade as commissioner because he forges consensus among the owners. He appointed a task force as his fact-finders, then hoped he could sit down with the A's and Giants and lead the teams toward a solution.
The A's say a San Jose ballpark would revitalize their franchise, while moving 35 miles farther from San Francisco. The Giants say their rights to San Jose should be enforced because their business model depends on revenue from fans and businesses there.
"Everybody has a good story to sell," said a person who has spoken with Selig but is not authorized to discuss the issue. "No one wants to solve the problem."
The problem, understandably, has been distilled to a yes or no question: Should the A's be allowed to move to San Jose? The optimum solution is not a one-word answer but a multiple choice.
Take, for instance, what appears to be a logical solution — let the A's move to San Jose, and compensate the Giants for any resulting financial damages.
If the A's had to pay the damages, how much better off would they be than if they could get a new ballpark in Oakland? And, if the A's started winning in San Jose, and if the Giants started losing, how would the effects of on-field performance be separated from the effects of the A's move?
Selig has not abandoned the idea of a new ballpark in Oakland, even if the A's have. He is not convinced the money would be there, although he also is not convinced a new park in San Jose would be a done deal if he would just say yes to the A's. How long would he give either city to deliver?
There are broader issues in play for Oakland too. The A's, NFL's Raiders and NBA's Golden State Warriors all play on the same property. The A's are looking to San Jose, the Warriors are taking a look at San Francisco and the Raiders could be looking at Los Angeles. How hard should Oakland fight to keep its teams when pro sports might not be the best economic use of the property? Is there a role for baseball in that discussion?
In L.A., we spent years wondering how the Dodgers' saga could be resolved, so long as Selig insisted that McCourt sell the team and McCourt refused. McCourt eventually got a great deal — to Selig's chagrin — and agreed to sell.
In the Bay Area, Selig apparently has yet to hear a sufficiently creative solution — a win-win, if you will — from the A's or Giants.
"No one has had the guts to do that," said the person who has spoken with him.
It is past time for Selig to do that, to make a decision, to impose a solution.
He has good reason to be wary, and not just of angering the A's and/or Giants, or of setting a precedent that could offend other owners. No matter how he rules, he could find himself a defendant in court, perhaps fighting off a challenge to baseball's antitrust exemption.
The advertisement in the Oakland Tribune closed by telling A's ownership: "The time has come to do the right thing." We would say the time has come for Selig to decide the right thing, then just do it.