Facts are stubborn things. So are Oakland baseball fans. Anyone saying that Oakland hasn’t done enough to keep the A’s are simply, factually wrong. Here’s to hoping that A’s owners soon start working with Oakland officials who are offering a helping hand. It would be the first time since 1995 that an A’s owners did that.
The Sunday column by San Francisco Chronicle sports editor Al Saracevicfeatured a blistering attack on A’s owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher. But what made the scathing critique unique was that it wasn’t just the opinions of a columnist; Saracevic sought out longtime A’s season-ticket owners and let the fans’ angry criticisms speak for themselves. Take Steve Eigenberg, who told the Chronicle he’s been going to A’s games since April 17, 1968. Eigenberg, 59, said: “Winning should be a commitment, as well as making money. Instead, this current ownership is hell-bent on getting out of here. I hope this is not a long-term ownership group. I hope the other owners will tell them to sell the thing.”
Up next were Dave Filipek, 68, and John Einstos, 58. The Chron said the longtime friends and A’s fans are “angry” because they’ve seen Wolff and Fisher run the team into the ground. Einstos said: “A baseball team is the heart of a municipality. It’s more than a business. But they treat it like a business.”
Two important things got lost amidst the excitement that most A’s fans felt after the May 3 press conference at Clorox, where company CEO Don Knauss invited A’s owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff to negotiate with Oakland leaders for a new ballpark or sell the team to someone who will.
1) The list is of Oakland/East Bay corporations that want to support the A’s with their cold hard cash is impressive and wide-ranging;
2) And it’s painfully obvious that those same corporations have been ignored by Wolff and Fisher since they became owners in 2005.
It’s all there in Knauss’ recent interview with KQED’s Nina Thorsen, an excellent journalist and an avid A’s fan. Knauss said:
“Two-and-a-half years ago, some 45 companies in the East Bay committed to being corporate sponsors and put over a million dollars in escrow as sort of a down payment on sponsorships — things like marketing programs, seat licenses, luxury suite commitments. Anything to demonstrate to the current ownership that we as the business community were very committed to keeping the A’s here.”
That’s right, major East Bay corporations such as Clorox, Kaiser, Safeway, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Cost Plus, Pandora and about 40 others are willing to spend money on luxury suites for A’s games, but also want to be part of a long-term solution by helping the franchise build a new A’s stadium in Oakland. That’s music to the ears of any long-suffering A’s fan. And perhaps most importantly, it illustrates that there is plenty of corporate support to keep the franchise prosperous — currently at the Coliseum and at a new Oakland ballpark in the future.
But what really caught our attention was the next quote from Knauss:
Now we really haven’t had any meaningful discussions with the current ownership since then, so we thought it was time to reinvigorate our message to them …
Wait, what? Let’s repeat that: The East Bay corporate community “hasn’t had any meaningful discussions” with the current A’s ownership since two-and-a-half years ago? That is a jaw-dropping quote because it means that it’s been at least two-and-a-half years since the A’s front office picked up a phone and tried to sell a suite or a game ticket or anything A’s-related to a major corporation in their home city. By now, you’ve all heard of that ballpark-banner-turned-meme, “Wolff lied, he never tried.” Well, Knauss’ comments factually support the “Wolff never tried” part because it’s clear the A’s owners are doing nothing to court the Oakland/East Bay corporate community.
And it might explain why there are Kaiser ads at Angels home games in Anaheim, but not at A’s home games in the city where Kaiser has its corporate headquarters: Oakland. One team’s front office — the Angels — has reached out to corporations and wants to make it work. The other team’s front office — Fisher’s and Wolff’s A’s — are content to sit on their hands and do nothing, collect welfare checks from other owners to make up the difference, and then whine about the lack of corporate support with the hope they can use it to garner support from MLB owners for moving the team out of Oakland.
Our question for MLB owners is this: Is it smart business for you to potentially weaken your franchise, which you’ve worked so hard to buy and maintain, by removing territorial rights for two guys who COULD make it work within their territory if they tried, but haven’t because they simply don’t want to?
The show of corporate support at the Clorox press conference and Knauss’ subsequent interviews with KNBR, 95.7-The Game and KQED illustrate that the Oakland/East Bay business community is fully willing to financially support a new A’s ballpark in Oakland. The question now is, are Wolff and Fisher? And if they can’t or won’t, then they should, as Knauss said on May 3, step aside and let somebody who will.
Nine years after Lew Wolff was named v.p. of venue development for the A’s, Clorox CEO Don Knauss has actually developed more venues than Wolff. Matier & Ross reported in Sunday’s Chronicle, “As former chief executive of Minute Maid, Knauss helped with the effort to build the Houston Astros’ downtown ballpark that subsequently bore the company’s name.”
Among the many facts that came out of last week’s press conference at Clorox, that one may loom the largest. And to any impartial observers, the news conference — which was attended by Oakland corporate execs from Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Pandora, Kaiser and many others — was proof positive that Oakland’s business support for a new A’s ballpark will be strong.
Another crucial fact was reported by Matier & Ross: there are THREE prospective ownership groups that want to buy the A’s from Wolff and Fisher and keep the A’s in Oakland. One group is based in Oakland, one is in the South Bay and the third is from Southern California.
The immediate response from the media showed that they have tired of Wolff’s dishonesty and stubbornness. A Sunday column by the Chronicle’s Scott Ostler had this headline: “A’s ownership’s rewards for doing nothing.” Harsh. But also accurate. Ostler wrote: “While the A’s wait, Lew and John make a profit every year and watch the franchise skyrocket in value…Meanwhile, the team shrivels, as do the fans’ spirits, but Fisher and Wolff have an incredibly high threshold of pain – the pain of others.”
Not to be outdone, the Oakland Tribune’s Carl Steward wrote this about Wolff on Saturday: “With the aid of other Oakland businessmen, Clorox CEO Don Knauss wants to bleach Lew Wolff from the scene. A’s fans are praying Knauss can get out that stubborn stain.”
And Lowell Cohn of the The Press Democrat wrote this: “For a long time, I’ve been down on the Oakland A’s ownership, most notably Lew Wolff and John Fisher. I have written sarcastic columns about them, because that’s how I feel. Now I have something new to offer. They should sell the team. They really should.”
It was a big day in Oakland today, as Clorox CEO Don Knauss led a presentation, while joined by several Oakland and greater East Bay business leaders at Clorox headquarters, announcing their continued support for keeping the A’s in Oakland. This is big news because it reiterates the commitment of local business leaders in keeping the A’s in town.
While Knauss led the discussion, also present were representatives from Safeway, Pandora, Kaiser, Matson and Dreyers Ice Cream — all East Bay-based business titans. Knauss stated that “Clorox strongly and enthusiastically endorses the efforts of the East Bay business community and City of Oakland to keep the Oakland A’s here in a new, world-class stadium.” He mentioned that Clorox and other East Bay companies have pledged financial support for ballpark naming rights and the seat and luxury suite purchases necessary to keep the A’s in Oakland. He also mentioned that the team has good fan and corporate support even though there is no commitment from the A’s to remain in Oakland, adding that if the A’s were to commit to Oakland there would be a bandwagon effect from other companies to get on board. Knauss said several times that he is willing to work with current owners, John Fisher and Lew Wolff, on these plans. However, he added, if ownership is not willing to cooperate then Knauss and others have identified new ownership willing to work with city and business leaders to keep the team in Oakland with a new ballpark.
This is a big point, as the press conference was just the latest development to poke holes in current ownership’s position that there are “no options in Oakland.” Knauss also mentioned that there city officials and business leaders reached out to A’s owners more than two years ago when this whole process began; while MLB was aware of it, Fisher and Wolff had no response. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan also spoke, echoing Knauss’ comments. Quan mentioned that in her last talk with the Giants they told her they still are not going to give up on their territorial rights ownership of San Jose and Santa Clara County. Fellow fans, today was a pivotal moment in the franchise’s future.
Very public announcements of support by the East Bay business community is a major step toward proving to the powers-that-be regarding what nearly all A’s fans have known for years: that Oakland is a strong and viable market in which the A’s can thrive for eternity. Don Knauss has experience in naming rights and sponsorships, as he was a major player in the deal to build Minute Maid Park in Houston. So, what happens next? Who knows, but it’s time that the A’s followed their own fans’ desires and partnered with civic and business leaders in keeping this team here. We can make it happen. And, one way or another, we will.
Now that the A’s stadium situation officially will NOT be on the agenda at the MLB owners meeting on May 16-17, we have to ask: How long is Lew Wolff going to continue this sorry game?
We keep hearing that the A’s will make progress on a South Bay ballpark “next month” … only problem is that “next month” always arrives without any A’s progress on a new stadium. A few weeks ago, just hours after someone close to the A’s whispered in Susan Slusser’s ear that the A’s would be on the owners meeting agenda, an MLB official slapped down the A’s front office, saying the opposite. A few days later, Selig told the press that there is no timetable for an A’s stadium.
After years of total inertia on the ballpark front, almost everyone seems to know the A’s will never fulfill Wolff’s pipe dream. Wolff seems to be the only person in the world to think otherwise.
The question no longer isn’t, “When will Selig act?” Three years and two months of silence has answered that question. The answer is, never. So, the key question has become: How long will Wolff keep holding the A’s franchise hostage for a ship that will never come in?
We’ll ask one more question: It’s been more than nine years since Wolff was named V.P. of Venue Development for the A’s, and what venues has he actually developed?
In another life, Wolff could give up on San Jose and start to work with Oakland. Unfortunately for Lew, he is loathed by A’s fans and the Bay Area media, and he has no one to blame but himself for the wholly unnecessary scorched-earth strategy he used in his failed bid to force a move out of town.
That leaves but one solution for Wolff: Sell. Sell the A’s, please.
A’s fans, the city of Oakland and the integrity of baseball all deserve better than what your ownership tenure has given them. Sell, Lew, sell. For the benefit of all involved, pocket your big profits and sell the team. Everyone, including yourself, will be better off for it.
The only alternative is to wait for a “next month” that will never come at all.