SAN JOSE -- The A's attempted journey to San Jose continues at the speed of Pablo Sandoval. As he tries to steal home. While carrying Bruce Bochy on his back.
In other words, the slowness of the process continues to be maddening and ridiculous.
But now, at long last, comes a development that might truly shake up the landscape.
Sam Liccardo, the San Jose CityCouncil member whose district includes most of the proposed downtown ballpark property, wants the city to sue the Giants. They continue to claim territorial rights to the South Bay and, empowered by Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption, have used that claim to block the A's quest at every turn.
Liccardo's strategy, if affirmed by his council colleagues, could be a game-changer. It would be a cunning reverse twist on the Giants' own veiled (and nonveiled) threats to pursue legal action against San Jose and other entities if the A's are allowed to move south.
"The concern that seems to be broadly discussed is about litigation on behalf of the San Francisco Giants," Liccardo said the other day at his City Hall office. "But the San Francisco Giants should become concerned about the threat of a lawsuit by the city of San Jose."
Seriously? Yes, seriously. Liccardo says the Giants are not just standing in the way of San Jose's downtown reaching its full potential, they are costing the city real money.
"We have an independent economic analysis," Liccardo said. "And it documents that the fiscal benefit of a downtown San Jose ballpark -- and this is in conservative terms, with just the property taxes generated and the money that would go to public schools and to the county -- exceeds $30 million over 30 years. And any antitrust suit that the city might bring could mean treble damages."
In other words, if the Giants lost the lawsuit that Liccardo wants to file, the team could be liable for $90 million or more.
But what about the legal costs to San Jose and its citizens for filing the lawsuit? Liccardo has that handled, too.
"There are extremely qualified litigators, well-known attorneys, who are willing to take it on without a dime of cost to San Jose taxpayers," Liccardo said. "I've spoken with them. They would take it on a contingency basis."
That snapping sound you just heard was the Giant ownership group whipsawing to attention.
So far, the Giants' obstructionist strategy, espoused by team president Larry Baer and majority owner Charles Johnson, has been a winning one. It's been four years since Major League Baseball appointed the "Blue Ribbon Panel" to examine the A's case for a shift southward. Yet the issue remains stuck in neutral.
Last month, a mini-fuss erupted when a Los Angeles Times report indicated that the A's had been given "tentative guidelines" for a "potential move" to San Jose. The A's denied it. That denial was correct in the sense that no formal list of requirements has been presented to Athletics owners Lew Wolff and John Fisher. However, in ongoing meetings with the "Blue Ribbon Panel" over the past year, officials from both the A's and San Jose have been given recommendations about the project.
All of the recommendations are feasible. But there's no way San Jose would or should spend a dime on them before baseball promises that the A's can indeed build their ballpark — which Wolff says he will do with private money. The Catch 22, of course, is that Major League Baseball can't promise San Jose anything until the Giants get out of the way. And commissioner Bud Selig has been unwilling to impose his will on the issue or exert any real power to get it settled.
That's why things are stuck. Liccardo believes that a lawsuit might unstick them.
Make no mistake, the San Francisco Giants are entitled to their business stance — although you wish they'd be more honest and blatant about how much they're doing to undermine the A's intentions. The most obvious is an ongoing bogus lawsuit challenging the downtown ballpark's Environmental Impact Report. That lawsuit was filed on behalf of "Stand For San Jose," an alleged "citizens group" spearheaded by the San Jose Giants minor league team.
The San Francisco Giants, of course, hold majority ownership of the San Jose Giants. And the "Stand For San Jose" group is represented by San Francisco attorney Ronald Van Buskirk, who works for the same law firm that handles the San Francisco Giants' legal affairs. Even a Los Angeles Dodger fan would be smart enough to see the connection.
Liccardo believes that the "Stand For San Jose" lawsuit will eventually be settled in San Jose's favor. But he is vexed by the fact that San Jose Giants' executives are asking for improvements and other considerations at Municipal Stadium.
"There's no small irony," he said "in the fact that San Jose taxpayers are subsidizing the Giants with their minor league ballclub by providing below-market rent, plus maintenance costs, while the parent club is suing the city and costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars to defend the suit."
So when will Liccardo bring his new lawsuit proposal to the rest of the council? That likely depends on Wolff, who is a lifelong friend and former college fraternity brother of Selig. San Jose has taken Wolff's direction on all ballpark matters. And so far, Wolff has been reluctant to do anything that might upset Selig. Liccardo, an attorney by trade, wonders if Wolff might be getting angry enough to give Liccardo a green light.
"I'm happy to swing the hammer and pound the nail," Liccardo said. "There are others, who have a bigger stake in this, that are more reluctant. The A's ownership wants to find an amicable solution. But for the strong desire of Lew Wolff to play nice, I would be urging my colleagues to file suit right now."
Wolff, contacted by phone last week after a spring training game, had "no comment" on any San Jose developments. He is still playing nice, not nasty. But for how long? It is never good for sports when lawyers get involved. But that might be the only way the A's get to San Jose.