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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Oakland A's rise, while new ballpark stalls

Commissioner still hasn't ruled on team's proposed move to San Jose.

September 15, 2012|By Bill Shaikin
  • It's not Moneyball, but the A's have thrived this season. Now all they need is a new stadium.
It's not Moneyball, but the A's have thrived this season. Now… (Otto Greule Jr. / Getty Images )

This is absurdity on so many levels: The Oakland Athletics will start selling playoff tickets Monday.

Tickets start at $10.

You can't get into Angel Stadium for $10 during the regular season, even for a crummy midweek game against the Cleveland Indians, at least based on the prices posted on the team website.

Think back to how the teams did business last winter. The Angels threw a third of a billion dollars at Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The A's traded perhaps their three best pitchers — Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and closer Andrew Bailey — none of whom were older than 27.

The Angels were playing to win now. The A's were playing to win later — that is, to stockpile prospects for the new ballpark in San Jose, with the anticipation that Commissioner Bud Selig finally would approve the move from Oakland.

A funny thing happened on the way to San Jose. The Angels are just about eliminated from contention for the division title, and they might not get into the playoffs at all. The A's have a better pitching staff this season than last, and a better record than every team in the American League except the Texas Rangers.

The A's fans, beaten down for so long by the ghosts of "Moneyball," the perpetual departure of top players and the eternal wait for deliverance of a new ballpark, even rewarded the team with a rare sellout Friday.

This is where what could be a pretty nice story could turn pretty ugly.

In a season in which so much has gone so right for the A's — pitcher Brandon McCarthy nearly gets killed by a line drive, then comes out of surgery cracking jokes despite a cracked skull — the Hollywood ending would have Selig attending their playoff opener and putting on a San Jose A's cap. Good team, new ballpark, done deal.

That ain't going to happen. But something could happen, and soon.

It has been three years and six months since Selig said he would decide if the A's could move to San Jose. The A's have waited for Selig to say yes, to approve the new ballpark that they say would revitalize their franchise, in what they call the best available spot in the Bay Area. The Giants have waited for Selig to say no, to uphold the territorial rights that would force the A's to stay out of San Jose and build their new ballpark in or near Oakland.

Selig has waited for the A's and Giants to forge a compromise. That ain't going to happen, either.

There are indications Selig might rule by the end of the year. Yet, rather than say yes or no, Selig appears to be considering a ruling that could challenge both the A's and Giants to fulfill certain criteria.

"I think there will be an effort to be Solomonesque," said someone who has spoken with Selig but declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. "This is not a 'yes or no' sort of thing."

The status quo works just fine for the Giants, but it is corroding the A's.

Lew Wolff, the A's owner, won't say much about the process. But he will say this: If Selig puts conditions on his ruling that require a year or so to fulfill, the waiting game is over.

"That would be a no," Wolff said. "They might as well just tell us no."

For instance, the burden could be put on the A's to guarantee their financial projections. If the A's move to San Jose, pay to build the ballpark, and come off baseball's welfare system of revenue sharing, how can the A's ensure the long-term sustainability of a championship-caliber club?

As Selig and his lieutenants learned the hard way in their bruising battle to oust Frank McCourt, cash is the best guarantee. Wolff might have to try to tap deeper into the pockets of the majority owners — the Fisher family, the founders of the Gap — and Cisco, the company that has committed to buy naming rights for the new ballpark.

It is unclear what kind of time frame Selig might have in mind, or what conditions he might consider imposing upon the Giants. It also is unclear how Selig might rule on Oakland, where Wolff says there are no viable sites for a new ballpark. Selig apparently believes otherwise, but city funding has all but disappeared with the extinction of redevelopment agencies, and Wolff has committed no McCourtian sins that would compel the commissioner to push for a sale of the team.

The wild card is legal action — by the A's or Giants, by Oakland or San Jose, or by third parties — that could stall the issue in court for years. If the A's and Giants meet in the World Series, Selig might be better off letting the teams play for the championship, and for the rights to San Jose.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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