Major League Baseball’s intentions re: the Athletics and San Jose have finally been smoked out. In filing a paper with the court deciding the city’s lawsuit, MLB claimed to have rejected the A’s proposed move to San Jose back in June.
The day before San Jose filed its suit. The suit, MLB is claiming, is now invalidated because it told the A’s to cancel those rebar orders.
This comes from Michael McCann’s Sports Law Blog, and since McCann knows his legal onions, he can spot a suspicious smell when it hides in legal jargon.
But because it’s Major League Baseball, nothing is as it seems. In fact, other sources have claimed to different media members that MLB never told anyone of its rejection at all, which makes a body wonder if a rejection is filed in the woods where nobody can see it is a rejection at all.
It is important to remember two things before you wander any deeper into this thicket.
1. MLB wants the lawsuit crushed before any discovery phase – and the next hearing is this coming Friday.
2. MLB wants to make no decision whatsoever until Bud Selig’s retirement in 2015, and is only having to play this card now because the lawsuit cut in line.
What the MLB filing is really designed to do in the short-term is take the lawsuit off the table. Nothing says it cannot revisit San Jose’s alleged merits or demerits down the line, but while the suit lives, San Jose’s chances do not.
The bigger problem for the A’s, however, is time. The blue-ribbon panel/Easter Bunny/Santa Claus/sparkly unicorn consortium is 56 months into its existence without producing as much as a Kinko’s bill, but that’s just one of Bud Selig’s more contemptibly laughable fictions. He’s been asked to explain why the 28 owners who don’t have operations in the Bay Area aren’t keen on doing anything about the A’s alleged “problem,” and this is the “answer” he has decided works best.
And it works great, because every person who asks a question about the committee is missing the point as much as every person who asks about territorial rights. One does not exist in any practical reality, and the other can vanish in a moment.
In that way, the Giants are more a boogey man than the actual obstruction. MLB has taken on the war not on San Francisco’s behalf but on its own.
But back to the issue of time. Selig swears he is leaving the job in 13 months (413 days, in case you’re notching a piece of wood), and his successor will be a dramatically different operator. He (or, and this is a spectacular longshot, she) will still be the servant of the owners, but their desires re: Oakland may be more easily expressed to someone who doesn’t have a connection to A's co-owner Lew Wolff.
In addition, Wolff is nearly 80, and may not be keen to wait out his brethren much longer. He is the minority owner here to John Fisher, who is 52 but is believed to be more committed to baseball as a business proposition, and the A’s have never been worth as much on the market as they are now.
In short, there are moving parts well beyond this court filing as one searches for an end-game. There are no other civic alternatives to the Bay Area for the A’s, so the problem isn’t going away. And there is no answer to the back-burner question; “Would it be easier for the A’s to be sold for $500 million without a stadium plan or $800 million with one?”
That’s one more question that needs time to play out, and MLB is skilled at using the calendar as well as its legal shields and monetary advantages to win the day its way. The lawsuit has smoked MLB out, but only for a moment. By the time a resolution is actually achieved, a lot of current players in this argument will no longer be playing.
And only a fool would handicap a race without knowing any of the horses.