First, a little context is required, so we need to take a quick stroll down memory lane. Major League Baseball has a very long history. Almost as long is the history of the baseball media acting as the propaganda arm of the owners.
Back in the good old days of the game, baseball writers almost invariably sided with the owners. There are numerous reasons for the coziness of owners and writers, here are a few that leap to mind:
First, baseball writers were somewhat dependent on owners for access, as technology had not yet opened up the game to the extent it has today.
Second, owners frequently treated baseball writers better than their own players. Baseball owners understand the importance of good press in keeping both the turnstiles spinning and the players under their thumb.
Third, the fact that the origins of baseball largely predated the rise of organized labor meant that the power of the owners vastly outweighed that of the players. So, perhaps it's not surprising that the media naturally favored the owners.
All of this is simply the long way of saying that baseball writers have long been biased towards the owners. If you've been a fan of baseball during any of the collective bargaining sessions, then you are familiar with the old saying that "baseball players are lucky to be making so much money for playing a game." That has long been the talking point used by owners to drive down player salaries. It's a line they have consistently fed to the media, which was only too willing to disseminate it to the fans. And, frankly, it has been very effective for the owners. Ever wonder why fans complain about baseball player salaries, but no one complains about actor or musician salaries? Why do people complain about Jayson Werth's contract, but not about Tom Cruise earning $20M a picture or Barbara Streisand earning millions for performing a mere handful of concerts in Las Vegas?
I would argue that the disparity is largely due to baseball fans having been conditioned by the owners via the media. Fans have been conditioned to view the players as being fortunate to be paid for playing a mere game, rather than as individuals who should be compensated in accordance with the revenue they generate for their employers. In short, throughout the history of the game the owners have consistently and effectively utilized the media to frame the issue for their own benefit.
Even today, after all the gains made by the MLBPA, the media still favors the owners. Perhaps not surprising, given the financial disparity between the two sides. Baseball players may be rich, but owners are wealthy. In the end, MLB owners are still capital, while the MLBPA is still labor. And, in today's day and age, it's not surprising to see the media favor the deeper, frequently corporate, pockets belonging to the owners.
In this article by Ken Rosenthal, the issue isn't between owners and players, but rather between an owner and a fan base. Regardless, Rosenthal wastes little time in writing a one-sided argument in support of the desires of the Oakland A's ownership group.
Here is the complete article:
"A's need to get moving, or else
Free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre was the player the A’s wanted most this offseason. They made him an initial offer of five years, $64 million and later raised their bid to six years, $78.6 million, according to major league sources.
Yet, they never stood a chance.
Beltre, like most star players, wanted no part of Oakland. No part of the Coliseum. No part of a franchise that has ranked in the bottom five in home attendance in each of the past five seasons.
The solution for the A’s is simple — in fact, the simplest of any struggling franchise in the game today. The team needs to move to San Jose, a more populous, prosperous city 40 miles south of Oakland.
“If we want to be successful in the game, we’ve got to take advantage of situations that are right in front of us,” says Scott Boras, the agent for Beltre and several other top players. “And this is one of them.”
Yes, Boras is speaking partly out of self-interest; a stronger A’s franchise would possess greater spending power and help drive the market for his players. But a stronger A’s franchise is in the game’s best interests, too.
No longer would the team be a revenue-sharing recipient. Franchise values would increase as the industry grew more robust. Baseball could move on to other problems.
So, what’s the holdup?
The Giants, of course.
The Giants, who hold territorial rights to San Jose’s home county, Santa Clara, only because the A’s were kind enough to surrender them in the early 1990s, when the San Francisco team was exploring a move to the area.
Appeasing the Giants will not be easy — their owner, Bill Neukom, took over the club in 2008 with the knowledge that San Jose was part of the team’s territory. He understandably does not want to lose sponsorship opportunities or diminish the value of his club in any way.
Well, baseball developed a blueprint for solving such a problem in March 2005, when it reached an agreement to move the Montreal Expos into the Orioles’ territory in Washington, DC. The deal created the Nationals and guaranteed the Orioles at least $130 million a year in revenues and a sale price of at least $360 million.
The A’s/Giants conflict, in some ways, should be easier to resolve — the A’s already exist in the Bay Area, while the Nationals did not exist in Washington. The Orioles/Nationals arrangement also included the formation of a new regional television network. The Giants and A’s already maintain deals with separate Comcast entities.
“The idea that we’re here, sitting on our hands and not letting this franchise get going is detrimental to the game,” says Boras, who grew up in Elk Grove, Calif., near Sacramento.
“A few franchises need to be evaluated and examined. Oakland can immediately improve and become a success if moved to San Jose. You would then have two well-run and successful franchises in the Bay Area.”
Neukom, like Orioles owner Peter Angelos, is an accomplished attorney. Baseball surely would not relish a prolonged, contentious negotiation with the Giants, but if that’s what it takes to fix the A’s, so be it.
Other low-revenue clubs are much more challenged.
Teams such as the Pirates, Royals, Padres and Reds believe that winning will solve their problems. Well, winning didn’t work for the Rays and Indians, who failed to generate appreciable revenue increases during periods of recent success.
Now both clubs are stuck: The Rays can’t get financing for a new ballpark, and the Indians are trapped in a city with a diminishing population and corporate base.
An NBA team can relocate to a city as small as Oklahoma City, but a major league franchise must be in a market strong enough to support 81 home dates.
Name a better possibility in North America than San Jose, where a 32,000-seat park for the A’s is all but ready to go.
“If we had approval from baseball, it would take six to nine months to finish our drawings, then a maximum of two years to build,” A’s owner Lew Wolff says. “So, I would say 30 to 36 months.
“The city has purchased most of the land. We are willing to give the money to buy the rest of it if they don’t happen to have it. As far as financing, it will be done through debt and equity. We’re not waiting for any kind of bond issues or government help, which we can’t get anyway.
“In some ways, that makes it more difficult. But in some ways, it’s simpler. We don’t have to go to anyone.”
Absent public financing, the A’s are confident the ballpark would pass a citywide ballot measure. The team in 2006 struck a 30-year naming-rights deal with Cisco that would provide $4 million annually. Its new multi-year agreement with Comcast SportsNet California also will help with financing, Wolff says.
Commissioner Bud Selig formed a committee in March 2009 to study the A’s ballpark options. Wolff says it is his understanding that the committee’s work is now done. Selig, through a spokesman, declined comment.
Meanwhile, the A’s remain in limbo, plodding along in Oakland. Franchises in baseball’s other two-team markets — New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — share the same geographic territory. The Bay Area is different. The population in the Giants’ territory, Wolff says, is twice as large as that in the A’s territory.
“The whole thing is really ludicrous,” Wolff says.
For all their obstacles, the A’s have built an intriguing club, one that might very well contend in 2011.
Their young pitching staff last season led the American League in ERA, and general manager Billy Beane has spent the winter making improvements through trades and modest free-agent signings.
The A’s failure to sign Beltre for the second straight offseason, however, illustrates the difficulty the team faces in landing premier free-agent talent.
A year ago, Beltre spurned a three-year, $24 million offer from the A’s to sign a one-year, $10 million deal with the Red Sox. This time, he went to the Rangers for more money than the A’s offered — five years, $80 million.
His decision could help determine the outcome of the AL West race.
“You talk to players,” Boras says, without referring specifically to Beltre. “It’s not the city. It’s not the team. It’s the ballpark. And there are no fans there.
“When teams recruit against the Oakland A’s, they say, ‘Why do you want to play in an empty park?’ It’s not about the organization. It’s not about ownership. It’s about locale.”
Earlier this offseason, Lance Berkman rejected a two-year offer from the A’s to sign a one-year deal with the Cardinals. When the A’s do land free agents, it’s usually because the players want to be in northern California or lack better options.
True, the A’s signed designated hitter Hideki Matsui and relievers Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes this offseason, but none is an elite talent. The team’s outlay for the three in 2011 will be about $13 million combined.
For Beltre, the A’s were willing to guarantee six years, but at $12.8 million per season, not $16 million. After Beltre signed for that price with the Rangers, the A’s added Balfour and Fuentes, bringing their 2011 payroll to nearly $70 million.
Imagine how much stronger they would be in San Jose.
The three other AL West clubs — the Rangers, Angels and Mariners — play in terrific markets with terrific parks. The proposed 32,000-seat stadium in San Jose would be the smallest in the majors. But the A’s average home attendance would almost double if they filled the park, and premium seating and luxury suites would provide additional revenue.
It’s time. It’s past time.
“In the end, this is hurting baseball,” Boras says. “It’s depriving baseball players and baseball fans of a successful franchise. That’s wrong. We need to correct that.”
The solution is within reach."
In this article, Rosenthal basically frames the issue as follows: "The A's need to move to San Jose in order to survive." A better, more fair statement of the issue would be that "the A's need a new ballpark in order to thrive."
Of course, the restated issue would not operate to completely exonerate the ownership group of their responsibility for the A's financial situation, which seems to be the primary goal of the article. And, to achieve this goal, Rosenthal relies on a number of questionable statements to support his already shaky premise.
I have more than a few problems with his article, but here are a few of the issues that bother me the most:
Issue #1: For some odd reason, Rosenthal goes to player agent Scott Boras for a quote on the Oakland A's situation, even though he readily admits that Boras speaks solely out of self interest.
What insight could Scott Boras possibly have on the viability of baseball markets or the tricky topic of financing a baseball ballpark? None whatsoever. Boras has a significant interest in seeing the construction a new revenue generating ballpark for a previously revenue challenged organization. Of course, Boras doesn't care where that park is constructed, only that it gets done. He simply wants more money for his clients and himself. For him, it doesn't matter if the ballpark is in Oakland, San Jose, or Jupiter, just so long as it increases the revenue of the organization, because both he and his clients will ultimately get a cut of that new and improved revenue stream. However, Rosenthal attempts to use Boras' comments as some type of support for the premise that the A's need to move to San Jose.
Issue #2: Rosenthal includes Lew Wolfe's argument that "the population in the Giants' territory is twice as large as that in the A's territory." This is a completely and intentionally disingenuous statement. Let's get real here, both the Giants and A's draw fans from the same exact area. The extent of the Giants' territorial rights is that the A's cannot construct a ballpark in San Jose. However, while the A's are forbidden from constructing a ballpark in San Jose, there is NOTHING to prevent the A's from drawing fans from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, just as they always have. This is a market that has long supported two MLB franchises and can continue to do so without difficulty in the future.
Here is a look at the attendance figures over the past few decades for A's and Giants:
Decade: Oakland__San Francisco__Difference
In the 1980s, the A's outdrew the Giants by ~2.5M fans. In the 1990s, the Giants outdrew the A's by a paltry ~300K fans. And, of course, in the 2000s, the Giants attendance exploded and they outdrew the A's by ~14M fans. Of course, the discrepancy in the 2000s has nothing to do with Oakland's viability as a baseball marketplace. It has everything to do with the opening of Pac Bell Park in San Francisco prior to the 2000 season.
The only problem with the Oakland market is simply that the A's owners have refused to step up and privately finance a ballpark IN OAKLAND. The truth is that the A's were on the same exact footing as the Giants until the 2000s. At that point, the Giants reaped the benefits from stepping up and privately financing a ballpark. Since that point, the Giants have become the premier organization in the area, just in case last year's World Series championship failed to drive that point home. In short, the Giants demonstrated their loyalty to the fans and their commitment to their market by using their own funds to build a ballpark. The A's have not.
The real problem here is the A's ownership. Here's a fun fact, the A's majority owner, John Fisher, is one of 8 billionaire owners in Major League Baseball. Again, let's repeat that for emphasis, the A's are owned by a billionaire. They could easily finance their own ballpark, which seems to be about as risk-free an investment as an owner could hope to find. Lew Wolff is the face of the ownership group, but Fisher is the majority owner. Regardless, the A's have failed to invest in the community and fan base. Instead of being willing to privately fund a new ballpark in Oakland, the A's have dragged their feet, complained and bashed the Oakland market, and tried to get a ballpark in a location, San Jose, that they know to be off-limits.
I suspect that, if we were to pull back the curtain and see the true motivation of Lew Wolff, then his desire to build a ballpark in San Jose has more to do with the opportunity to develop the real estate surrounding the proposed ballpark site than any alleged weakness in the Oakland market. Given that history has conclusively established that a new ballpark in Oakland would enable the A's to compete on equal footing with the Giants, there must be some other reason for Lew Wolff to be desperately trying to move to an area that he knows is completely off-limits.
Issue #3: Rosenthal writes that "the A's remain in limbo, plodding along in Oakland" without mentioning how the ownership group has intentionally operated to keep itself in limbo. Major League Baseball ballparks are sound investments in their own right, but owners are always looking to extract the most public money, grants of land, and tax breaks from municipalities that they possibly can. Reds fans saw this firsthand with the construction of Great American Ballpark, which was done with significant public money extracted in part with a promise from the owners to increase payroll. Well, we all know how that panned out for the fans.
Even short of financing a new ballpark in Oakland, the ownership group could have invested more heavily in the team and the market. They have chosen not to do that to any appreciable degree and, not surprisingly, the result has been an alienated fan-base and declining attendance. One small example is that the organization has canceled FanFest in favor of a Fan Appreciation Tailgate to be held in the parking lot before an exhibition game on a weekday. The owners have completely scaled down their commitment to the Oakland market, seeming to prefer the use of a scorched earth campaign to ensure that they have no other alternative than to leave town.
Overall, I simply expect better out of Ken Rosenthal than this. A national writer should do more than just parrot the self-interested arguments of a baseball ownership group. Major League Baseball works in Oakland. It has for decades and there's no reason it can't continue into the future. For that to happen, the A's simply need to build their own ballpark in Oakland. If the A's actually committed to the market, rather than badmouthing it in an attempt to move to a different city, then baseball in Oakland could flourish again. It's not the market, it's the ballpark. And, the ballpark is something that is well within the control of the A's billionaire ownership group. Of course, you'd never know that from Rosenthal's article, which continues the long, disturbing baseball media tradition of swaying public support in favor of the owners.