Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Diamond Dave Kaval's Star Dims as MLB Threatens Oakland

So, that happened...mainly MLB puffing out its sizable, graying chest and issuing an ultimatum: make it work Oakland, the A's will have other options lined up. 

The league giving its *formal and public* blessing to relocation is intended to do what exactly? Motivate the Oakland City Council. Yes. Finalize the sale of the other 50% of the Coliseum to the Athletics? Maybe. Open up viable relocation offers? Also maybe. 

Mainly, it felt like Rob Manfred being Rob Manfred. He's a lawyer by trade and his fandom of baseball as a sport, rather than a business, seems an open question.

A window into Rob Manfred came from an unexpected place and an unexpected voice last summer. As the league was trying to get going while the pandemic raged, The Daily featured New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt (who for years covered the Trump/Russia/Mueller investigation) in conversation with the commissioner, who he met during the 1994 strike. Manfred was an employer-side labor lawyer during the work stoppage. 

Schmidt recalls meeting him in '94:

And he was this pugnacious, in-your-face, takes-no-prisoners lawyer who had the sport’s biggest problem on his desk. And we would just get on the phone. We’d get on speakerphone. He’d put me on speakerphone. And he would scream at me. And I would push back at him. And after a while, a few years of this, I think we both sort of looked down at our hands and realized that our hands were sort of bloodied, but we hadn’t really gotten anything out of it.

Later he compares the previous commissioner, Bud Selig, to Manfred:

Different from Manfred, he’s a baseball romantic. If you get on the phone with Selig, you always have to listen to him regale and tell stories about baseball history. Just a deep-seated love of the game.

The Kavalcade Rolls On

Telling in Dave Kaval's media interviews post-MLB statement are the talking points about the Coliseum site -- not just the current stadium -- not being viable and citing the need to be in a "downtown," "urban" area. It's a sloppy dodge. East Oakland is urban. Is it downtown? No, but neither is Howard Terminal. Both areas are proximate to downtown Oakland. As Jerry Brown seems omnipresent in California's history, his tenure as Oakland mayor -- sandwiched between governorships -- dealt a death blow to then-minority owner/majority mouthpiece Lew Wolff's "Uptown" plan that may have been the team's best chance to move downtown. With Laney College also out of the question, there is no feasible area to build.

Howard Terminal is straight industrial. Your neighbors are a scrap steel mill -- which you are in active litigation with -- and one of the busiest ports in the world, with the truck traffic to prove it. Oh, and you have no public transit, only delusions of gondolas and realities of freight trains.

Here's how I put it in a nutshell after the relocation bombshell:

The "viability" of the Coliseum site is a major red herring. It's eminently transit-accessible. It only needs a cruise terminal and a space port to have all modes in close proximity. It has land. Oceans of parking lots that can trade places with the current Coliseum when the new park rises. What's the real holdup? It's a really hard question to answer as the team/league finds the area deficient for a ballpark but the A's master plan calls for finishing its acquisition and building the area out with retail and housing.

Also, lots of ballparks are in non-downtown areas, including the Braves (new), Dodgers (old, but thriving), Phillies (relatively new) and Rangers (new).

The MLB-issued statement is meant to stop any questions regarding the Coliseum site. But, they are still worth asking.

It's also worth asking Kaval and Fisher (if you can find him) why they have made such a staggering difficult site the do-or-die option and if, presuming they are being honest, its selection was a chess move meant to spur relocation permission.

If you previously bought Kaval's song-and-dance, it's time to reassess. I wonder how "office hours" will go next time?

The "Expiring Lease" Line

Kaval also keeps bringing up that the A's lease only runs through 2024 and, even assuming quick approval, Howard Terminal won't open until 2027. This connection seems to go unquestioned by interviewers, buying the spoon-fed fib that the A's will be without a stadium after 2024. 

Three things: 

1) IF Oakland still owns 50% of the Coliseum, they surely will agree to an extension. Look at what happened with the Raiders, who avoided becoming co-tenants in Santa Clara with a lease extension, even after formally announcing the move to Las Vegas.

2) IF the A's succeed in purchasing the city's 50% share of the Coliseum, they won't need a lease.

3) IF the A's decide to relocate, presumably any stadium project would take until at least 2027 anyway. They will be starting from zero.

The lease issue is a Kaval talking point. He should be pressed on it, but his likable personality papers over some threadbare arguments. 

It's amazing what PR stunts and food trucks will do for you.