Will an MLB team move to San Jose? Four-year battle between A’s and Giants continues

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The San Jose Giants, shown here showing off their 2010 California League Championship Rings, are currently the city's hot baseball ticket. That may change if the Oakland A's move to San Jose. (Photo: Doug Ray/ Peninsula Press)
The San Jose Giants, shown here showing off their 2010 California League Championship Rings, are currently the city’s hot baseball ticket. That may change if the Oakland A’s move to San Jose. (Photo: Doug Ray/ Peninsula Press)

The Bay Area baseball rivalry between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s hit its peak in 1989, when the two teams clashed in the World Series. Now, more than 20 years later, the bridge partners continue to squabble over the rights to the city of San Jose.

The A’s’ ownership group wants to move the team to the South Bay, but the Giants claim “territorial rights” to the region, meaning they can block any attempt by a Major League Baseball team to relocate there.

The history surrounding the territorial-rights issue is murky. The A’s and Giants agreed to essentially split the Bay Area in two during the early 1990s, when the Giants were looking for a new home. Although the Giants’ territory in that agreement included San Jose, many A’s constituents argue that the deal was only for the purposes of allowing the Giants to move to San Jose. Since they never did, the A’s argue, the deal no longer applies.

The ceding of those rights would require league approval, and the A’s will likely have to pay the Giants a large settlement fee that could be upwards of $100 million.

It has now been nearly four years since major league Commissioner Bud Selig created a committee to investigate the issue in March 2009.

Los Angeles Times sportswriter Bill Shaikin reported last week that the league had given the A’s “tentative guidelines for a potential move to San Jose.” He cited three anonymous sources who were not authorized to discuss the matter. The league released a short statement, saying that its committee “continues to work hard on this very complex, complicated situation.”

The details of the guidelines remain unknown

But for now, without any certainty, it remains a waiting game.

“Unfortunately, it’s like a long, painful root canal,” Michael Mulcahy, co-chair of Baseball San Jose, said of the league-imposed moratorium. “It’s a slow-moving process.”

Baseball San Jose is an advocacy group in favor of the A’s moving to the South Bay, led by Mulcahy and former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer.

Mulcahy is a third-generation San Josean who describes himself as a lifelong fan of both the A’s and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders. As the youngest of five kids – three sons – Mulcahy spent much of his childhood attending games in Oakland, largely because his father preferred the affordability of A’s and Raiders tickets as opposed to their San Francisco counterparts.

Mulcahy, who works for the San Jose real estate and investment company SDS NexGen Partners, believes that a move to San Jose would benefit both the A’s and the city.

Baseball San Jose sees its role as twofold: staying in communication with city leaders and A’s executives, as well as “representing the grassroots” efforts of the cause, according to Mulcahy.

“We’re playing an advocacy role when we need to, and we’re doing everything we can to keep the public motivated,” Mulcahy said. Still, because of the MLB’s slow-moving decision-making process, Mulcahy acknowledged that it was proving difficult to maintain high levels of public energy and engagement.

“From a public face standpoint, we are lying a bit low until such time that we can launch a campaign to get this thing to San Jose,” he explained

Recently there have been murmurs that a decision from the league might be imminent. If the move is approved, the biggest remaining question will be the settlement fee that the A’s would likely have to pay to the Giants.

On Jan. 23, Giants chief executive officer Larry Baer appeared on the MLB Network program “Clubhouse Confidential” and acknowledged that the A’s needed a new ballpark. He also said that the decision was in the hands of Major League Baseball, at the least perhaps suggesting that the Giants may no longer be disputing the rights issue, other than negotiating the settlement fee.

In December of 2011, a group called Stand for San Jose – which opposes the A’s moving to San Jose – filed a lawsuit against the city government over what they deemed to be improper actions in the purchasing of the land that would potentially house a stadium for the A’s.

But the group itself remained a bit of a mystery. Last September, the city of San Jose issued a court order looking into the group’s formation, organization, and membership.

Prominent San Francisco attorney Ronald Van Buskirk represents Stand for San Jose. Ronald Van Buskirk, of the firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, “practices primarily in the areas of land use and environmental counseling and litigation,” according to his website.

Court documents from the 2011 lawsuit show that there were six plaintiffs from Stand for San Jose. Most of these people did not respond to e-mails requesting comment, but one did say she would not speak on the record about the issue anymore because of unfavorable portrayals of her in other publications in the past, in stories relating to the court proceedings.

The city of Oakland, meanwhile, is trying to keep the A’s at home. That would involve construction of a new ballpark to replace the current O.co Coliseum, which the A’s have called home since 1968.

Thus far, Oakland has not been able to come up with a successful plan for a new stadium,and the A’s have had trouble drawing big crowds to the present ballpark. In 2012, even while they overachieved to win their division and make the playoffs, the team was 27th out of 30 MLB teams in home attendance.

The 47-year old Coliseum is the last multipurpose facility in the country – the stadium houses both the A’s and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders. Massive foul territories during baseball games leave fans too far from the field of play; an upper-deck addition in 1996 blocks the view of the Oakland hills, which used to serve as the venue’s backdrop; and the stadium’s basic, circular design doesn’t stack up aesthetically against newer venues such as San Francisco’s AT&T Park.

Last December, the A’s committed to five more years at their current venue, a decision that doesn’t please those who wish to see the team migrate south.

“We continue talking to the A’s ownership, and they continue to express strong desire to see the A’s play in San Jose,” San Jose councilman Sam Liccardo told the San Jose Mercury News after that announcement.

San Jose has been seen as a potential new home for the A’s ever since real estate developer Lew Wolff purchased the franchise in 2005.

After a brief failed attempt to move the team to Fremont, Wolff has set his sights on San Jose.

Since the league began investigating the issue in 2009, the Giants have won two of the four World Series, including the most recent one. The team has naturally garnered more popularity, and has seen its attendance rank jump from 11th in the league in 2008 to fourth in 2012.

Although it seems that more local support for the Giants might cut into the South Bay fan base that the A’s are trying to cultivate, Mulcahy argues otherwise.

“I really don’t think it does anything but help our case,” he said. “The fact that the Giants in a two-team market can be as successful as they are just gives more credence to the argument that it’s a two-team market. Why not put both organizations in a position to be as successful as they can to really take advantage of it?”

Meanwhile, the waiting game continues. The A’s have a short-term deal with Oakland that doesn’t hinder their chances of moving, and the Giants may be softening their stance.

Still, an announcement from the league office could come any day and change everything. None of the parties have any idea when that could be.

As Mulcahy put it: “Ask Bud Selig.”


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