SAN JOSE -- After nearly four years of waiting for Major League Baseball to decide whether the Oakland A's can move to downtown San Jose over the San Francisco Giants' territorial objections, city leaders and baseball boosters have little more than cryptic rumors to give them hope that the long-sought ballpark project is inching toward a resolution.
The latest glimmer of hope came Thursday when Los Angeles Times sportswriter Bill Shaikin, citing three unnamed sources, reported that MLB has given the A's guidelines for satisfying concerns about allowing the San Jose move. But the report didn't say what those guidelines might be, fueling speculation as to whether the road map is a mere cruise down Interstate 880 or
A's owner Lew Wolff, who was traveling in North Dakota, said he hadn't seen the Times' report and had no comment. The Giants also declined to comment. And Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said only that the committee convened four years ago next month to study the A's options for a new ballpark to replace the aging O.co Coliseum in Oakland "continues to work hard on this very complex, complicated situation."
"I'm hoping it's a sign that Major League Baseball is going to make a decision," Mayor Chuck Reed said. "But it hasn't been confirmed so it's just speculation. It's all inside baseball. Until Lew Wolff says something's happening, I'm not going
There's plenty of reason for skepticism.
Andy Dolich, a former A's executive with extensive knowledge of the situation, said it's "at least the 10th time'' in the past four years that someone has said the proposed A's move to San Jose is ready to start happening.
"And yet it never does," said Dolich whose effort to buy the A's from previous owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann in 2000 was effectively thwarted by another "blue ribbon" committee appointed by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. "The blue-ribbon committee has had tons of meetings that I know of. But this is not quantum astronomy in trying to figure out what the options are. The core of what they've been asked to do could have been done in a lot less time than four-plus years."
Many city leaders are beyond exasperated.
"We're all eager and increasingly impatient to see the white smoke emanate from the tower of MLB," said Councilman Sam Liccardo, whose district includes downtown. "I believe we're going to get the green light. The question is when and under what conditions and will I still be alive?"
Still, Larry Stone, the county assessor and a longtime A's fan involved in efforts to bring the team to San Jose, said the report of guidelines, if true, would mark a significant milestone.
"It's the first real serious indication from Major League Baseball that they're willing to consider allowing the A's to move to a new ballpark in downtown San Jose," Stone said. "I think that's very positive."
The Athletics, who moved to Oakland from Kansas City in 1968, have been seeking a new home off and on since the late 1970s under various owners, citing perennially poor attendance that renders the club dependent upon revenue-sharing subsidies from other teams. After failed attempts at new ballpark projects in Oakland and Fremont, the A's sought permission in 2009 to move to San Jose.
But MLB in the early 1990s assigned Santa Clara County as exclusive territory of the San Francisco Giants. At that time the Giants were considering new ballpark proposals in Silicon Valley before building AT&T Park on the San Francisco waterfront. The Giants' minor league affiliate plays in San Jose and has joined a still-pending environmental lawsuit over the proposed A's ballpark.
Speculation over what has given MLB pause to greenlight the A's move has included litigation, San Jose's requirement for a vote on stadium projects involving public money and whether the city or team can acquire remaining parcels in the ballpark site along Autumn Street south of the HP Pavilion, something Gov. Jerry Brown has hindered with his move to eliminate redevelopment agencies statewide. Oakland officials are still vying to keep the team with various proposals, though Wolff has dismissed them as infeasible.
But Roger Noll, Stanford University professor emeritus of economics, said that if the A's have received guidelines, that's good for them.
"From Lew Wolff's point of view, this is extremely important because it resolves the limbo he's in," Noll said. "This constant state of limbo is not good for anybody."
Bay Area News Group Reporter John Hickey contributed to this report. Contact John Woolfolk at 408-975-9346. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/johnwoolfolk1.