The only thing worse than being bullied is being bullied by an empty threat. That's what the A's and Major League Baseball just did to Oakland.
With approval of his new Coliseum lease in limbo, A's co-owner Lew Wolff ran to commissioner Bud Selig for permission to talk tough. Wolff came back and threatened to leave -- immediately -- if the lease agreement wasn't approved by the Oakland-Alameda County Joint Powers Authority.
So the JPA approved it by a 6-2 vote. Got stuck up with a water gun.
All eight members of the JPA should have called Wolff's bluff and voted down the lease agreement. They should've told Lew Wolff goodbye in a hundred ways.
Aloha. Peace out. Hasta la vista. You still here? One person should've calmly opened the door while another jingled keys.
The 10-year lease still isn't official. The Oakland City Council still needs to vote on it. And those folks should vote it down on principle. If the A's want to come back to the negotiating table and work out a deal that is beneficial to the city -- trusting that Oakland politicians know what's beneficial is another matter -- fine. If they don't?
To be sure, I want the A's in Oakland. The lease isn't terrible, though all the risk is on the county. And the lease includes a promise from the A's to get serious about building a ballpark in Oakland. And the language even allows for the Raiders' hoped-for construction, which means the lease agreement keeps the door open to both the A's and the Raiders staying in Oakland.
But getting played like this is so unlike Oakland -- I'm talking about the people, not the politicians. There is no way a sports team should wield this kind of power over a city. Those days need to be done, and are pretty much done with any city purporting to be major. But the A's, who operate as if they don't have the money to wheel and deal like modern-day owners, definitely don't get to call the shots.
Municipalities across this land are closing up the coffers to sports teams. And owners are seeing the trend and privately financing what they want. The Clippers just sold for $2 billion. Think Steve Ballmer, the new owner in waiting, is holding up Los Angeles for $5 million in parking taxes?
The threat of the A's leaving is so stale anyway. Where are they going? To San Jose, a move Major League Baseball has worked to prevent? To AT&T Park for sharing with a Giants franchise that wants to keep the A's out of its territory? If the A's can make it happen, do it.
What other options are there? An out-of-state move isn't immediate. Perhaps Canada has the only ready-to-go venue befitting an MLB franchise.
Where you going, chief? Some makeshift stadium in Small Town, America, isn't beneficial. Do the A's really want to go play in Modesto?
It's probably equally unrealistic to expect these politicians to muster a united front, to refuse to be bossed around by an outgoing commissioner and a frugal owner. But at some point, they need to take a stand for the city and the citizens of the county.
This stranglehold sports teams have on Oakland is the biggest stumbling block to Oakland keeping those teams. The desperation local politicians show to keep teams is counterproductive because it allows for stunts like this.
If the A's and Major League Baseball are going to fake a strong-arm on a lease agreement, why wouldn't they do the same for funding on new ballpark?
Where is the investment from the team, or from MLB, on this lease? The A's agreed to buy a new scoreboard. Whoop-EE. They agreed to spring for the Maybelline to put on the pig.
For years now, the A's have been trying to leave but can't. They haven't shown any commitment to making this a mutually beneficial relationship, putting every nickel they can on the county's tab. And they refuse to sell because they are making Dr. Dre money by maintaining a low payroll and drawing from MLB's revenue-sharing plan.
Certainly, the A's belong in Oakland. They are part of the city's history and identity. The residents are passionate about the team. And yes, having a major league baseball team brings jobs to the city. But leveling the Coliseum and turning it into an office park would bring jobs, too.
The days of Oakland having to kowtow to sports franchises need to end. The reality is, this area offers more to the franchise than the franchise offers to the area. This is a top market with a passionate fan base. Land in Oakland is cheaper than in other top-flight markets, so you get the metropolitan benefits at a discount rate.
If the A's leave and find greener grass, and someone willing to kick in, tip your cap and move on. But as long as it takes nothing more than an empty threat to make the city jump, the Samsonite will be kept at the ready.
That's why the City Council should reject the lease. It might be the only way to ensure a fair shake moving forward. The tables need to be turned .
The A's and other sports teams should be trying to show Oakland what they can bring to the table. That should be just as much part of the conversation as what is being done for the team.
If the A's don't like that arrangement: Arrivederci.