Athletics Aren't Going Anywhere

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OAKLAND, Calif. - So where are they going? The Oakland Athletics, that is. Not to Portland. No way. And Major League Baseball has as much chance of succeeding in Las Vegas as Bud Selig would in a one-man revue at the Bellagio.

Selig, not trying to be funny, hinted the A's, the why-won't-the-Giants-give-us-San-Jose A's, might move away from the Bay, meaning the body of water separating San Francisco and its sellout crowds - more than 100 in a row to this point - from the sad turnouts in Oakland.

But if they don't go down Interstate 880 some 35 miles to San Jose, now the largest city in Northern California but viewed by the sophisticates on Nob Hill and even the Oakland Hills as a onetime prune orchard with unsophisticated dot-com millionaires, then where do they go?

As you know all too well, Lew Wolff is the real estate baron who is the A's owner and managing partner, even though technically he holds only 10 percent of the team, with John Fisher in charge of 80 percent.

Whether Fisher, whose father Donald, founder of the Gap stores and - heh, heh - a former partner in the Giants, calls the shots as some sort of eminence grise no one is certain. But Wolff, a former frat bro of Selig's at Wisconsin, is the man blamed for most of the A's troubles.

Wolff, by all reports not a bad guy, even if depicted as such by true A's fans in Oakland and some ruthless media sorts, has been thwarted in attempts to find the way to San Jose and build a park that would be small but comfortable.

That's because as part of an agreement with the Giants, who privately financed their own not-as-small but comfortable and unique park, MLB agreed the territorial rights to San Jose and environs would belong to the Giants.

The A's-Giants dispute goes on - and on and on. So Thursday at the quarterly owners meeting in New York, Selig, after conceding there was no timetable for resolution, was asked if other relocation possibilities existed.

Of course there are. Salt Lake City. Fargo. Des Moines. But they're as unrealistic as Portland and Vegas. You have to have a population base. You have to have a television market. You have to have people who want to go to a baseball game, not a blackjack table.

Selig was his usual noncommittal self. "You'd have to ask Lew Wolff," was his response. "That's really his decision to make."

A move outside the Bay Area, however, would necessitate approval from Major League Baseball.

"It depends where they'd be,'' Selig added. "They could be all over the world, for that matter."

The Prague A's? Unlikely.

The solution to all this is for Wolff, who wants nothing to do with authorities and business people in Oakland, a place he doesn't live, to reach a compromise. To concede his plan will not work, and all his stubbornness and intent has done is get those A's tarp-covered seats in the upper deck of Coliseum and too many attendance figures that don't even require the use of a comma.

It should be noted, however, that the A's sometimes draw 25,000 or more, which isn't easy when the stadium has been configured down from 45,000 to 35,000. Hard to sit under a tarpaulin and see home plate. Or even center field.

Selig said he had hoped the A's and Giants would resolve the matter themselves, which is sort of like hoping Jonathan Vilma and Roger Goodell will resolve their matter themselves.

"Both clubs,'' Selig said, referring to Oakland and San Francisco, "made a presentation to the executive council (Wednesday), but there's nothing new other than that."

A group headed by Don Knauss, chairman of Clorox, which actually is based in Oakland, insists he and several others have the money and wherewithal to purchase the A's and get them the needed new place to play right in the city where they now play. Wolff, however, won't budge.

Meanwhile, the A's, despite trading almost every good and well-known player they've had under contract the last several years because of an inability to pay big-time salaries, have been delightfully effective on the field, oblivious to the war going on between the front offices.

If not oblivious to the days attendance is embarrassingly low.

After defeating the Texas Rangers 5-4 on Thursday, Oakland had a 20-19 record. That was a half-game better than the Giants, who are doing well at the gate but not particularly well hitting and fielding.

Still, for the Athletics, the issue isn't so much where they'll end up in the standings as where they'll end up playing baseball. And the probability is they'll end where they're starting, Oakland.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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