SBJ/March 12-18, 2012/Franchises

A’s, Giants take public their longtime territorial dispute over San Jose

The open fighting last week between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants over the A’s proposed move to San Jose marked the most public dispute between MLB clubs in many years and is likely just the beginning of an escalating battle between the two franchises on the contentious issue.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig for years has discouraged teams from taking disputed issues public, and in the case of the A’s long-running stadium problems, both the A’s and Giants have generally avoided making news themselves on the subject. Each has claimed respect for Selig’s special panel studying the issue, now entering its fourth year. The A’s have steadily expressed their dire need for a new ballpark to end their need for MLB revenue sharing and to better compete against other teams with modern facilities. The Giants have consistently said San Jose and Santa Clara County are part of their defined market territory and have no plans to relinquish it.

An MLB panel has entered its fourth year of studying the A’s stadium problems.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
But any pretense of statesmanship or total deference to league politics was largely eliminated in a matter of hours last week, as both teams issued pointed statements offering different versions of MLB history. The A’s, citing MLB meeting minutes, contend they gave the Santa Clara County market territory to the Giants in the 1990s as a lifeline to help the then-struggling Giants build a new ballpark there, with the offering “subject to relocating” to Santa Clara. The Giants, of course, now play in AT&T Park in the city of San Francisco, but the A’s say the “return of Santa Clara to its original status was not formally accomplished.”

The Giants, however, strongly disputed the A’s claim of the “subject to” language and added that the club’s current market territories, first drawn up in 1990, have since been reconfirmed four additional times and formally entered into the MLB Constitution.

A’s co-owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher “agreed to these territorial designations and were fully aware of our territorial rights when they purchased the A’s” in 2005, the Giants said.

Thus, the Giants and A’s are essentially talking past each other, with the Giants making more of a strict legal case, and the A’s more of a moral one.

“It is quite unusual for baseball generally, and particularly during the Selig era, to have an intra-team dispute go public like this,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago sports consultant with close ties to MLB and numerous teams. “Selig has done an exceptional job keeping this type of thing within the fraternity, so it’s going to be fascinating to see how he responds.”

The stakes on the situation are high on numerous fronts. The A’s are one of only two MLB clubs, along with the Tampa Bay Rays, to have an unsettled stadium situation. San Jose and the entire south Bay Area, sporting strong population growth and a vibrant Silicon Valley technology base, represent a fertile area of both local and national interest to baseball.

MLB officials said that there has been no formal change on the matter and that Selig’s task force continues its study. Privately, the league was not happy that the teams took the matter public in the fashion they did, but after a series of press articles suggesting MLB had made its decision and was ruling in favor of the Giants — each refuted by the league and rising impatience across baseball for resolution — such escalation was almost inevitable.

“We felt like we had to answer,” Wolff said last week. “We’re not looking to do anything to break territorial rights.”


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