OAKLAND -- Well, I must give Bud Selig credit for one thing. He was not afraid to show up in the place where (by unofficial survey) he is one of the planet's least popular human beings.
Selig is retiring as baseball commissioner in January. He is taking a farewell lap of his empire. Tuesday, he was at O.co Coliseum. There was a story going around in baseball circles that Selig had told his staff: "Before I leave, I want to visit all the Major League ballparks ... and Oakland."
The story, as it turns out, wasn't true. Yet as diplomatic tour stops go, Selig visiting Oakland was still a little like Churchill visiting troubled Northern Ireland -- which the British statesman once dismissed as "the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone."
In Oakland, there are no dreary steeples. But there is one very dreary baseball venue. Selig witnessed O.co in its full shambolic glory, with the faded upper deck tarps, the Raiders' football yard lines still painted on the outfield and part of the infield turf chopped up from football cleats.
Fans of the A's believe that Selig should have done something about all this by now. Either he should have personally taken the hands of Oakland politicians and dragged them through every step of a legitimate new ballpark project, or he should have allowed A's owner Lew Wolff to pursue the ballpark he desires in eager San Jose.
"Lest there be any misunderstanding, this team needs a new stadium," Selig repeated again Tuesday.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, that isn't a scoop. But during Selig's back-and-forth with reporters, we learned nothing new or significant about where the A's ballpark issue is headed. Although for the first time, Selig did admit that the problem won't be solved on his watch -- despite the five years of study by his so-called "blue ribbon panel," of which the commissioner spoke in the past tense.
Most strangely, Selig offered up some new revisionist history about the thorny territorial rights issue that has allowed the Giants to prevent the A's from moving to Santa Clara County.
"Do I wish it would have been solved?" Selig asked rhetorically. "Of course I do. I wish it had. And I understand people's frustration. But is there anything I could have done differently? I don't think so."
Later, the commissioner added: "I didn't create the stadium situation or the controversy. I'm the one in the middle of it."
This, from the man considered the most powerful baseball commissioner of the last 75 years, who pushed through so much other revolutionary stuff that has made the game so profitable.
It is possible that Selig did not mean to come across as a self-serving victim. But you be the judge. Some of us pressed him on the territorial rights history -- specifically, the 1990 decision by former A's owner Walter Haas to give up shared rights to Santa Clara County in order for the Giants to pursue their own new ballpark in San Jose. However, when that effort failed, Santa Clara County did not revert to shared territory. When asked why, Selig verbally pointed toward Haas and then-Giants owner Bob Lurie.
"You'll have to ask them," Selig said.
Walter Haas died in 1995. Lurie is 85 years old. He lives in Palm Springs. Lurie told the San Francisco Chronicle three months ago that he considered Selig responsible for disentangling the territorial rights imbroglio, noting wryly: "This is the commissioner's last year. Maybe he wants someone else to make the final decision."
Selig did acknowledge that Haas and Lurie were two of the most kind and collegial owners in MLB history, who always put baseball's best interests ahead of their own franchise -- an indirect dig at the current Giants ownership. And that's exactly why it is beyond unfair to blame Haas and Lurie for the current fiasco.
The truth is, Selig was already running baseball when the initial problem erupted. It occurred after Lurie sold the Giants to a new ownership group in 1994. New team CEO Peter Magowan soon began assembling support for a new ballpark at China Basin.
At roughly the same time, Haas was selling the A's to new owners: Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann. They were preoccupied with changeover baseball matters and let the territorial rights issue fall through the cracks. This delighted Magowan. A few years later, he could claim that his group bought the team only because San Jose was part of the Giants' territory. It was the first time Schott and Hofmann had heard of Magowan's assertion.
Selig, as a strong leader, could have pushed through a diplomatic solution to the territorial rights issue back then, in the late 1990s. Yet he, too, let the issue slip through the cracks. The ultimate outcome is that he cannot exit his job touting a triumphant record of perfect baseball health. Selig must acknowledge the one bleeding ulcer he leaves behind in Oakland.
At least he could keep his sense of humor about it. As we all know, Selig and Wolff were fraternity brothers in college. At the press session, Selig joked that 60 years ago, his mother had told him that Wolff "would be a problem -- and she turned out to be right."
Then the commissioner walked outside to view the dreary steeples.