Riding on the coattails of backed-up sewage, San Jose mayor Chuck Reed announced his city’s intention to hire a private firm to sue Major League Baseball for the right to make Major League Baseball put a franchise in his town.
[RELATED: MLB releases statement after O.co Coliseum sewage mishap]
Now it is true that Reed was planning this lawsuit for awhile, but it just sounds better that Wasteapalooza in Oakland Sunday is somehow tied to this. I mean, Lew Wolff spoke up loud and clear about that, and he, majority owner John Fisher and Reed have the same end-game in mind – getting permission to move.
The neat trick here is that the A’s cannot be seen to be in favor of the lawsuit, and may in fact be against it. Nothing, after all, says low-percentage move quite like riling a large corporate entity with an antitrust exemption and established rights to deal with their own franchises as they see fit.
But there are politics, and there are politics. Baseball has its, and Reed has his.
It is clear by its 51 months of aggressive inaction that MLB is not sufficiently interested in the A’s location to actually make a ruling on it. No other interpretation either makes sense or is true.
[RELATED: Wolff: Coliseum in 'worst shape in all of professional sports']
This indecisions is perceived by most people who understand the workings of the business as one of two things – either Bud Selig wants this to be his successor’s problem, or the A’s have done a shoddy job of convincing the owners that this is a problem that needs a front burner.
Either way, the issue is stalled, not by a chimerical blue ribbon panel that has a report due to MLB the day after Don’t Bother, but by baseball’s absence of a compelling call to action.
Enter Reed, trying the unusual tactic of holding his breath until Selig turns blue.
Reed sees the way Kevin Johnson became a hero in Sacramento by fighting to preserve the Kings for his town. The circumstances were far different – he had the team and was trying to prevent superior moneyed entrepreneurs from taking it – but he did fight one power by engaging another. Johnson is now as well positioned to be the next governor of the state as anyone except maybe an actor.
Reed’s political aspirations are anyone’s guess, but he is heaving up his own fourth-and-forever throw here. He and his lawyers have to convince a judge that Major League Baseball is not allowed to dictate the location or operators of its franchises, and they have to do this not only without precedent but with the burden of contravening baseball’s antitrust exemption.
Win or lose, Reed looks like the classic windmill-tilter, so his personal and political risk is actually minimal. Fisher and Wolff, on the other hand, risk an MLB backlash that could tie the court case up until the day after Seriously, Don’t Bother. Or, convince them to sell at a tidy profit and wash their hands of baseball ownership.
And no, that was not a sewage-based pun.
[DOWNLOAD: City of San Jose's official complaint]
Reed has surely been briefed on the daunting task and the considerable risks, so his decision to sue MLB anyway is not taken lightly. It is, however, a measure of his desperate situation that he is taking this step. After all, Chris Hansen and Steve Ballmer, the boys who wanted the Kings for Seattle, decided not to take the NBA to court, and they have pockets so deep that San Jose couldn’t even live on one of their park benches.
What Reed’s lawyers see that Hansen’s did not is, again, anyone’s guess. They may see this as the longshot with billable hours it seems to be, but they get paid either way.
Nevertheless, we are reaching some kind of closure here. Fifty-one months is a long time to do what a fourth grader with Google Maps and Wikipedia could do in 90 minutes, and even if this lawsuit does nothing more than to smoke out Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf and the vote-whippers in MLB, it will have moved the trench somewhere – forward, backward, or deeper.
But for the moment, let’s just think of it as one more animal act in the longest running version of Cirque du Inertie.
The Circus of Inertia.