Reality Checks Pile Up for Wolff’s Stadium Pipe Dream

Hey, remember that recent report that featured an angry Lew Wolff complaining about how slow the three-person committee is moving? Wait, sorry, that was a TWO-YEAR-OLD Bloomberg News article. In that piece from March 1, 2011, Wolff ranted:

“It’s so ridiculous to me … They’ve had time enough to explore anything. We’re getting close to the point Bud is going to make a decision.”

Just about two years later, still no decision.

Maybe we confused that with the article on how the next MLB owners meeting might have the A’s stadium issue on the agenda? Oops. That article wasn’t this year, that was last year, in early 2012. (And, nearly a year later, there’s no decision.)

Maybe it was that recent Mark Purdy column in which he didn’t quote Wolff directly but said that “there is word that Wolff and his ownership partners are getting antsier” about the long wait for a ruling on territorial rights. Wait, sorry again, that wasn’t recent. That column was written THREE YEARS AGO, on Jan. 28, 2010.

Surely you remember that Tweet by Bob Nightengale, USA Today’s national baseball writer:

“All signs and top #MLB sources say that the #Athletics will be granted permission by Feb to move to San Jose.”

My bad, that wasn’t so recent either. Nightengale wrote that 13 months ago, on Christmas Eve, 2011. His prediction, of course, never came true.

Why? Because when it comes to the A’s moving out of town, these rumors NEVER come true. For nearly four years now, in fact, there have been endless rumors and news reports of an “imminent decision” about the A’s from MLB. Nearly four years later, obviously, there’s still no decision. Which appears to be THE decision.

That’s the cold reality. The vast majority of A’s fans want the the team to stay in Oakland. Yet, we A’s fans get lectured a lot about the need to be “realistic.” Well, here’s the reality: We’re just weeks away from one of the most ignominious milestones in Bay Area sports history — the 4th anniversary of MLB’s three-person committee on what to do with Lew Wolff’s & John Fisher’s A’s.

What’s the delay?

Wolff and Fisher want something (the South Bay territorial rights) that does not belong to them and never will be for sale. After four long years, that’s been made abundantly clear. So, we must ask: When are Wolff and Fisher going to start being realistic? When that day comes they will realize, finally, that their plans to move the A’s are little more than a pipe dream and they are holding the franchise hostage while they live in denial about it.

In the meantime, Wolff and Fisher cling tightly to the franchise, making a big annual profit by dealing endlessly with rumors but not reality.

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Wolff still ‘the most hated’ Bay Area sports owner

Last May, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Al Saracevic famously wrote that “Lew Wolff is the most hated man in Oakland.”

Harsh words. But as it turned out, Saracevic may have been optimistic. About six months later, ESPN the Magazine published their sports franchise rankings and it wasn’t pretty, as it pertains to Wolff and other A’s owners. ESPN listed theOakland A’s as the 98th best franchise, but that score would have been better if A’s owners hadn’t dragged down the final score with their lousy ranking.

Where did the national publication rank Wolff and co-owner John Fisher? 121st. Yes, that’s 121st out of 122 teams. Only the Maloof brothers, then-owners of the Sacramento Kings, fared worse. ESPN ranked Wolff as “… the second-most loathed owner” among all sports team owners in the U.S. and Canada. Then the magazine described Bay Area baseball buffs as “a fan base that can’t stand him.”

Other national publications have taken notice. The New York Times’ reporter Ken Belson last spring wrote the following about Wolff:

“The strategy has led fans to accuse Wolff of trashing the current A’s to prove that operating in Oakland is untenable. Fans resent that Wolff has put tarps over the upper deck — even during the 2006 playoffs — and shuttered concession stands. Handmade signs that say ‘Slumdog Billionaire’ and ‘Don’t Take Our A’s Away’ now show up in the stands.”

The same New York Times article noted the cause and effect between Wolff and Fisher becoming owners in 2005 and the instantly negative effect their ownership has had on attendance:

“For much of the 1980s and early 1990s, the A’s routinely outdrew the Giants; as recently as 2005, the A’s drew more than 2.1 million fans. The next year, Wolff and the Fisher family took over the team, and attendance has fallen ever since …”

Or, as Saracevic wrote about Wolff and his mismanagement of the A’s stadium situation:

“This is no way to run a ballclub, folks. … Find a way to get a beautiful new stadium built in Oakland. If you can’t do that, sell it to someone who will.”

Restaurant Week: Oakland’s economy keeps growing

Right now it’s Restaurant Week in Oakland (Jan. 18-27), but that isn’t entirely accurate because the city’s foodie scene has been so hot the past few years it feels like EVERY week is Restaurant Week.

Just check out the bars, nightclubs, coffee houses and eateries that opened recently in Oakland. There’s Duende, a Spanish tapas place across from the Oakland Fox, the wildly popular performing arts theater that has led downtown Oakland’s ongoing renaissance. Loring Cafe is just about to open on the percolating strip along Grand Avenue, next to Era nightclub, Farley’s East and another new coffee house called Anfilo Cafe. Next to the Uptown apartments is Hopscotch, which joined New Parish and Hibiscus on San Pablo Avenue. Right in the heart of downtown, the Tribune Tavern — a restaurant/bar on the ground floor of the iconic Tribune Tower on 13th St. — will open any day now. Several blocks west, the Old Oakland neighborhood is thriving. Ratto’s, Caffe 817, Liege, Pacific Coast Brewing Co., Air, Grand Oaks Bar and Grill, The Trappist and Tamarindo have been holding the fort for years. But in the past year, there are almost too many new additions to list: Le Cheval came back, District (nightclub and eatery), a trattoria called Borgo Italia, Miss Ollie’s, Cosecha, El Gusano and Rosamunde Sausage.

In Rockridge, a new eatery called Box and Bells soon will open. It’s being started by James Shyabout, the owner of Hawker Fare, the popular Uptown spot. The Grand Lake area soon will welcome Little Star Pizza, a Chicago-style spot specializing in deep dish pies. In the Temescal district, well-respected chef Preeti Mistry is set to open Juhu Beach Club in two months, when her fantastic Indian food will be served. In West Oakland, some Baseball Oakland members tried to eat Saturday night at B-Side BBQ, a new joint founded by Tanya Holland, the internationally renowned chef who first gained fame with her Brown Sugar Kitchen on Mandela Parkway. But just like Brown Sugar Kitchen for brunch,B-Side BBQ was too packed with customers and we had to leave. It’s like Yogi Berra used to say: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

In Oakland’s Glenview district, there isn’t much new but that’s only because some of the city’s best restaurants already are established: We love Marzano on Park, Bellanico and Rumbo al Sur. And in Jack London Square and nearby, the Night Light has routinely packed them in, as has the popular upscale waterfront restaurant, Haven. A few doors down another waterfront pizzeria, Forge, is due to open in about two weeks. Next month, in a location just south of Howard Terminal, the Italian eatery Lungomare is scheduled to open.

And on, and on, and on, and on …

Of course, none of this good stuff is happening in a vacuum. It reflects astrengthening East Bay economy (as well as a growing economy Bay Area wide) that added 21,000 new jobs in 2012. As a pundit recently told the Oakland Tribune:

“The longer-term trend in the Bay Area remains a story of very positive job growth,” said Michael Bernick, a research fellow with the Milken Institute. “It is the South Bay, it is San Francisco, and now it is the East Bay.”

Hope the Mariners treat Bonderman better than Schott did

Former A’s first-round pick Jeremy Bonderman is attempting a comeback at the age of 30 and he signed a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners just before Christmas.

Even though Bonderman never played in the big league level for the A’s (Billy Beane traded him to Detroit in 2002, a year after drafting him), he has always been one of our favorites. It was easy to root for Bonderman because of how badly Steve Schott — then the A’s main owner — treated him.

According to an ESPN article by Peter Gammons, Bonderman and Beane were close to finalizing his post-draft contract, which was to include a $1.5 million bonus. But Schott was holding up the signing, Gammons reported. The reason? Bonderman is dyslexic and, as Gammons wrote:

Bonderman also remembered reading, before agreeing with Oakland, that the reason the deal was stalled was that owner Steve Schott was quoted as saying he “didn’t want to give $1.5 million to someone who can’t read or write.”

Schott’s comments were ignorant, to be sure. They also were remarkably mean-spirited and a sign of how quick Schott was to jump at any reason, even one that was callous and clueless and fictional, to save a penny here or there.

Here’s how fact-free Schott’s damaging comments were about Bonderman: Medical professionals define dyslexia as a developmental reading disorder. Though it presents challenges for learners of any age, the condition is common and in no way a reflection of one’s intelligence. Dyslexia, in fact, is shared by awide range of accomplished people and great thinkers — ranging from Nobel laureates to legendary political leaders to military tacticians to famous authors, inventors, musicians and entrepreneurs.

Most people are aware of this. Steve Schott, apparently, was not. Gammons wrote:

Oakland general manager Billy Beane and scouting director Grady Fuson eventually convinced Schott that Bonderman was worth signing, and the insensitive, boorish comment from the A’s owner was put aside.

Gammons wasn’t the only one who covered these negotiations. Gary Washburnof the Contra Costa Times described Schott’s stalling tactics as “ugly and hopeless.” Bonderman, then just 18, was stung by Schott’s insults but he persevered. A couple of years later, Bonderman eventually gave his take on Schott’s comments:

“He is entitled to his opinion,” the 20-year old said. “But I didn’t think that was fair, or right. Did it hurt? A little. Sure. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to work through being dyslexic.”

Bonderman prided himself “on working as hard as I could, trying to overcome a learning disability.” He’s still working hard. Bonderman encountered arm problems in 2006, and his last game appearance was in late 2010. Now, after two years out of baseball, he is trying a comeback in his home state, with Seattle. When he plays the A’s, we’ll be cheering for our Green-and-Gold, of course. But for any other games, we’ll be rooting for him.

After all, Oakland A’s fans have something in common with Bonderman. Both groups were treated horribly by Steve Schott and, all these years later, both groups are refusing to give up. Good luck, Jeremy Bonderman. You represent all that’s good about baseball.