In one of the most bizarre twists of San Jose's five-year-long odyssey to move the Oakland A's to a downtown ballpark, team co-owner Lew Wolff on Saturday confirmed he is weighing the possibility of a temporary baseball stadium if he cannot extend his team's two-year lease at the Oakland Coliseum.
According to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, among the sites Wolff is considering: San Jose Municipal Stadium, home of the San Jose Giants, the Class-A team of the San Francisco Giants, which has fought furiously against an A's relocation to the South Bay, claiming "territorial rights."
Wolff has looked at other stadiums, Reed said, ï»¿including San Francisco's Candlestick Park.
Reed said there are "probably half a dozen sites" a temporary stadium could be located, including vacant land the city owns that is adjacent to the new 18,000-seat soccer stadium being constructed for the San Jose Earthquakes. Wolff co-owns the soccer team.
The mayor said Saturday that Wolff has talked for a while now about the idea of temporarily having the A's play in an existing stadium or building a new temporary structure. Reed said Wolff last mentioned it to him the day after the mayor's State of the City address on Feb. 20.
"It's pretty simple," Reed said by phone from Washington, D.C., where he is traveling this weekend on city business. "They have got to go somewhere. If he (Wolff) can't stay at the Coliseum, the commissioner is not going to tell them (the A's), 'You can't play baseball for a few years.'"
During a brief phone call from Durham, N.C., Wolff would say only that the plan for a temporary stadium, first reported Friday in the Silicon Valley Business Journal, is a possibility and that his statement in an email he wrote to the Business Journal stands.
"I am hopeful of expanding our lease at the Oakland Coliseum for an extended term," Wolff wrote. "If we cannot accomplish a lease extension, I hope to have an interim place to play in the Bay Area or in the area that reaches our television and radio fans -- either in an existing venue or in the erection of a temporary venue that we have asked our soccer stadium architect (360 Architecture) to explore."
Wolff wrote that the A's weren't likely to look outside the Bay Area or their media market for now.
Beyond that, he told this newspaper: "I have no further comment."
Reed, an attorney, said he doesn't believe the Giants' "territorial rights" argument prevents either a temporary or permanent ballpark from being located in San Jose.
San Jose last year filed a lawsuit against Major League baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig, claiming violations of antitrust laws against monopolies and interference with a contract the A's signed with San Jose securing an option to buy downtown property for a new ballpark. The city lost the first claim in federal court, but has appealed that case. The second claim will be heard in state court.
Asked if a temporary ballpark in the South Bay -- which the San Francisco Giants say is their "territory" -- could be legally contemplated, Reed said: "There is no legal constraint. There is only the constraint of Major League Baseball saying it's OK."
The concept of territorial rights, Reed said, "is not the law. It's something that Major League Baseball has made up."
The South Bay's new soccer stadium, west of Mineta San Jose International Airport, is scheduled to open in November and host its first match in March 2015. About 50 acres nearby that are slated for mixed development, including office, retail and hotel space, might be available for a temporary stadium, the mayor said.
The 4,200-seat Muni Stadium would be a particularly contentious site because the city for years has leased the stadium to the San Jose Giants. But Reed conceded that the venue "might be a problem'' anyway simply because it's too small.
MLB and San Francisco Giants representatives declined to comment Saturday.
Reed said the city has not yet analyzed any location, but it's "something he (Wolff) wants to pursue." And the city, he said, "would take a look at what we could do to help."
"I know it's one of the things Lew is thinking about doing to meet his need to solve the next few years while we're waiting for MLB to get out of the way and let the team complete their effort to move to San Jose."
The Oakland-Alameda County board that operates the Coliseum complex in November granted the A's a two-year extension that will keep the team there through 2015.
But the A's and the Oakland Raiders -- which received a one-year extension -- want new stadiums and view their continued share of the publicly owned Coliseum as a stopgap measure.
East Bay leaders, meanwhile, are continuing with plans to redevelop the Coliseum complex as a privately financed sports and entertainment facility.
Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who chairs the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority, did not return phone calls Saturday. But he told the Business Journal that the board is working to negotiate a lease extension that would keep the A's in Oakland.
San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, however, said "it seems to me that the (MLB) owners would want the A's playing somewhere rather than nowhere, and San Jose is ready for a privately financed stadium, whether it's temporary or permanent."
Added Liccardo, a mayoral candidate who had pushed for the antitrust suit against MLB: "I don't understand the fundamental premise of the antitrust exemption that the MLB is somehow privileged to avoid competition. We believe in competition in America. Every other employer and every other industry is required to compete."