More than four years have passed since Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig formed a committee to study the best places for the Oakland A’s to play ball. But what’s the point of studying something if that knowledge is never put to the test?
On Tuesday, the city of San Jose announced time was up and filed a federal lawsuit challenging MLB’s antitrust exemption, part of which prevents teams from relocating without approval of the league and other team owners. A’s owner Lew Wolff has repeatedly stated his desire to move the club to San Jose, but the San Francisco Giants have insisted they have territorial rights granted in the early ’90s that should prevent the A’s from coming to the South Bay.
That will now be decided in court.
“I just realized we were never going to get an answer from Major League Baseball,” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said at a press conference Tuesday. Coming to a decision last week, Reed said he brought the matter to a vote in the City Council’s closed session. In almost unheard of solidarity, the lawsuit had unanimous support.
Reed added: “Like I said in the past: It’s a last resort if it’s necessary, and I think that it’s necessary.”
Hiring noted antitrust attorney Joe Cotchett, the city believes the lawsuit will be settled out of court—with the A’s finally coming to San Jose, where the team would play across the street from the San Jose Sharks’ newly renamed arena, the SAP Center.
“This is not really a legal issue; this is all about competition,” Cotchett boomed into a microphone at City Hall. “We’re going to ask commissioner Selig to come to a federal courtroom here in San Jose or in San Francisco and explain why he and his 30 auditors have constantly stopped the 10th largest city in the nation from being competitive with other cities.”
The lawsuit’s key arguments focus on the national antitrust laws—a sticky subject for the league, as the exemption was granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 and no other business in the country still enjoys such an exemption—and MLB’s interference in the contract between the city of San Jose and Wolff, who put a deposit down on property that would be used for the San Jose stadium. On three occasions, cities have sued MLB based on antitrust laws, and all three times the league settled out of court.
Councilmember Sam Liccardo, whose district contains some of the land that would be used for the proposed stadium, says an independent study of downtown shops, hotels and restaurants shows that a new ballpark would result in $83 million in direct spending. But while Wolff, a principal in San Jose’s Fairmont Hotel, wants nothing more than for his team to head south, he expresses no interest in going the route that San Jose has chosen.
“Lew Wolff does not support the city filing a lawsuit against his fellow team owners,” Liccardo said Tuesday, noting that Wolff told him as much in a conversation.
But County Assessor Larry Stone, who has been a leading advocate of the team’s relocation to San Jose, suggested a game of good cop-bad cop could be underlying Wolff’s and the city’s public positions.
“Well, I’m sure that Lew is ‘officially’ saying that he’s not happy with it,” Stone said. “This might be coming from both directions. He’s a cooperative guy and he wants to play it out through the system. But San Jose isn’t in that same position.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the timing of a conversation between Councilmember Sam Liccardo and Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff. San Jose Inside regrets the error.