The Giants mark their territory

Back when I was in private practice, I represented a park district that wanted to turn some old railroad lines in the middle of nowhere into a bike trail. They built about 85% of the trail, but the last little stretch was held up by this group of Mennonite farmers who lived next to the right-of-way and claimed the land where the tracks used to be was theirs. “How could that be,” I wondered? The railroad had tracks on that property since the 19th century, and they gave the tracks directly to my client. The Mennonites, however, had all manner of questionable and ancient legal documents which they claimed their great great great something or other had reserved the rights if the railroad ever left, yadda, yadda, yadda. I read these things, quickly figured out that, while it could be a pain, we could get that land for the bike trail if we were determined enough to do it.

Right before I filed my lawsuit to quiet title, the Mennonites parked a mobile home on the right of way and claimed they were home schooling a bunch of Mennonite farmer kids there, which immediately turned us into the bad guys and complicated my little lawsuit. Five years later, and I think the Mennonites have moved on to consulting with the San Francisco Giants:

Amid a threat to their territorial rights in Santa Clara County, the Giants are moving to fortify their baseball outpost in the region.

The major league club has reached agreement to purchase a 25 percent stake in their Single-A minor league affiliate in San Jose, club and industry officials told the Mercury News.

The club will hold a news conference at Municipal Stadium on Thursday to announce the transaction, which includes an option to gain a controlling interest in 2010 by purchasing an additional 30 percent.

“The South Bay is a major part of our operation and this reinforces that,” San Francisco Giants president Larry Baer said. “We have fans, sponsors and baseball history there that runs deep. It was a logical extension of who we are and what we do.”

According to baseball officials, the purchase will not enhance or alter the legality of the San Francisco Giants’ territorial rights to Santa Clara County; the A’s are known to be eyeing the region in their longstanding efforts to build a new stadium.

Lots of great reporting in this one, including the mayor of San Jose snubbing the Giants’ little news conference tomorrow and some choice quotes from a San Jose city councilman (a) noting how curious it is that the Giants care about San Jose all of a sudden; and (b) why, if the Giants truly had planned on making this investment for years as they claim, they allowed the city to pony up for renovations to San Jose’s stadium before buying into the team. Are the Giants calculating or are they cheap? Maybe both!

My guess: the Giants are doing whatever they can to bolster their claim to the territory in advance of the report from Bud’s Magic Oakland Committee. Maybe not with an eye towards ultimately blocking the A’s from moving to San Jose — I can’t exactly see how they legally and/or practically could do that — but to maximize the payoff they’ll get from Selig and the A’s when they ultimately drop their opposition.

Will it work? Well, in my case we got the Mennonite “school” off the property and there’s a bike trail there now. But I gotta tell ya: it was a hell of a lot more protracted and expensive an experience than anyone thought it would be.

(thanks to reader Ed T. for the heads up)

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Comments

  1. Sim said...

    Craig, 

    As a South Bay native, I just want to point out a couple of hitches to this whole A’s-to-San Jose narrative that the baseball blogging world seems to love:

    1.  Beyond the Territorial Rights, the reality on the ground is that Santa Clara County fans have always favored the Giants (and the 49ers) over the Oakland teams.  It isn’t a close contest, and it never has been.

    2.  The momentum to bring the A’s to San Jose comes from Chamber of Commerce types in the city of San Jose itself (not the surrounding area).  If the city does strike a deal with the A’s, these people will move heaven and earth to avoid any kind of vote involving spending 10 cents of public money, because everyone knows the voters will reject the deal.  That won’t be a close contest, either.

  2. Chris Simonds said...

    I enjoy my trips to AT&T;park when I visit SF but the Giants organization is pathetic. What is this territorial rights crap? The Cubs and the White Sox are in the same county, and though you hear some whining about how the Cubs get all the love, the two franchises basically do what businesses are supposed to do, they compete for the available market share. As do the Yankees and Mets. If we extend this “rights” idea for a sports franchise, are the Giants going to try and stop the NFL from lengthening its season? Oh wait, that would imply that they might have something to play for in September. I realize this is all about the owners and their reliance on their tame pet baseball commissioner to work out gentlemen’s agreements, but what that has done is let team owners field inferior products but keep a steady share of the market. In some towns it is turning baseball into a tourist attraction, like DisneyWorld, instead of a sport for fans.

  3. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Sim—make no mistake: to the extent I’m in favor of the A’s in San Jose, it’s a 50,000 foot “hmm, that makes more sense based on economics and population than keeping them in Oakland or moving them elsewhere does” kind of thing.  I’m certain there are real practical problems that will reveal themselves as time goes on.  It may end up being a terrible idea for those practical reasons.

    As for your specific points:  I wonder how much of the Giants’ fandom in Santa Clara county is a function of simply identifying (or wanting to identify) more with glamourous San Francisco as opposed to scruffy old Oakland.  Don’t you think that sentiment would change if the A’s actually showed up and played right in San Jose?

    Chamber of commerce:  those are always the types of people behind these sorts of things. It’s never truly a grassroots movement.  And while the BA has a strong track record of opposing public funding, even the Giants got quite a bit in terms of tax breaks and stuff when they built their joint.  If it’s sold as a private plan—even if it’s not 100% private—I have this feeling that the opposition, while strong, wouldn’t be definitive.  Especially with the Merc going crazy in favor of it.

  4. Jim Casey said...

    The A’s need to move to Vegas. Too much political infighting over a new ballpark in Nor Cal. How many times did the voters reject money for the Giants ballpark? They surely won’t want to pay anything now for one for the A’s. And isn’t the state treasury just about broke? Vegas baby. That’s where they should go, and become the first franchise to play in 4 different cities.

  5. Tom F said...

    One recent factor influencing San Jose fandom:  it’s trivial to take mass transit to a Giants game.  The Caltrain stops literally one block from AT&T;Park.  It’s a trickier affair to get to an A’s game.  There’s an Amtrak that takes you to the park, but it’s much less frequent and substantially more expensive.  Thus, if you live in San Jose and want to watch baseball, it’s marginally easier to watch Giants games.

    Also, it’s fun to see guys from A San Jose play in the majors.  I got to track Sandoval’s meteoric rise last season.  Seeing him in single-A, I could tell he was the best hitter on the field.  I did not realize he’d be in the majors by fall though!

  6. Sim said...

    Craig, Thanks for your response to my comment.  You’re certainly right that if the A’s actually moved to San Jose there would be much broader fan support for them in the South Bay than there is now. 

    There are lots of complications to this thing, though.  The wealth and corporate base of the South Bay is centered chiefly on the Silicon Valley cities to the northwest of SJ, not in the city itself.  This area has always been solidly Giants (and 49er) country.

    This isn’t like the Washington-Baltimore situation, where most DC-area baseball fans had never been Orioles fans anyway and had always wanted their own team restored.  South Bay fans are used to rooting for San Francisco teams, which we just take as the brand name for Northern California. 

    Plus you have the Territorial Rights complication (which wasn’t in play in the Expos-to-Washington relocation).  This is significant, because the current Giants ownership PAID for the Santa Clara County territory—it was built into their purchase price when the bought the franchise in late 1992.  It can’t just be disregarded the way Peter Angelos’ spurious claims to the “Washington market” were.

    And note that even in the Washington situation, MLB bent over backwards to compensate the Orioles significantly, by creating a regional sports network permanently controlled by the Orioles which in turn has perpetual control of the Nats’ tv rights (for an annual fee paid to the Nats). 

    This was the equivalent of a pay off to Baltimore worth tens of millions of dollars—for an area over which the Orioles had no territorial rights at all.  How much would it cost MLB and the A’s to pay off the Giants for encroachment in a territory that the Giants actually own?

    Bottom line is that, while putting a team in San Jose makes sense, so does putting a third team in New York or even a third team in the L.A. area.  Those things will never happen.  I see the A’s floundering for years to come in the Colisseum, then eventually getting a new park done in Oakland or going to Sacramento.

  7. GiantFan said...

    If anyone remember giants were out the door moving to tampa bay in the early 90’s, their owner lurie tried to get a stadium built in SJ, but that was A’s territory, the A’s GAVE the TR’s to the giants so they could stay in the bay area. SJ voted against a tax proposition for a ballpark but it never happened. the rest is history, Giant have TR’s to 6 bay area counties, the A’s have 2. Now tell me what is fair? This is all about money and corporate sponsorships,case closed. the TR’s label is all about that. Ilove the giants, but they come off as greedy and pathetic if this prevents getting a new stadium in this area.

  8. Sim said...

    Yes, the Giants have a larger and wealthier territory than the A’s do.  So what?  That was built into the price of the team when the Magowan group bought it.  And the A’s smaller territory, without access to San Jose, was built into Lew Wolf’s price when he bought the team.  To transfer SC County to the A’s, or to make it a joint territory, is simply giving the A’s a windfall:  they get a lucrative new asset at no cost.

    Chance of MLB doing that?  Zero.  By unilaterally stripping the SC County territory from the Giants, MLB would invite (1) a messy, unpredictable lawsuit (as Peter Angelos kept threatening despite having much flimsier grounds for one with the Washington relocation), and (2) an extremely unhappy Giants ownership group inside the MLB tent, something Selig and DuPuy have consistently avoided at all costs.

    Again, look what happened with Washington, where the Orioles held contingent broadcast rights but no territorial rights:

    —MLB paid off the Orioles by creating a potentially lucrative regional sports network, giving the Orioles permanent 2/3 ownership of that RSN, and shackling the Nats to it forever.

    —MLB also guaranteed the future sale price of the Orioles against any potential loss of franchise value resulting from the loss of the DC market.

    —Selig was willing to do this because he feared an unhappy Peter Angelos and a potential lawsuit, but also because Washington finally made MLB an offer it couldn’t refuse:  a 100% publicly-financed stadium.

    The A’s won’t be allowed into San Jose unless the Giants get at least as large an economic payoff as the Orioles did—probably larger, because the Giants actually own this territory under MLB rules.  And such a payoff doesn’t make any sense from MLB’s perspective unless San Jose offers substantial public financing of a ballpark, which we all know is not in the cards. 

    If the A’s build a privately-financed ballpark in San Jose (setting aside land use and tax credits from the city), where does the revenue come from to pay off the Giants?  And without some plan for that pay off, the conversation within MLB’s executive suites about the A’s-to-San Jose won’t even get started.

  9. A'sFan said...

    finally…thank you GiantFan.  My biggest issue with this whole thing that nobody seems to be hitting on is that the A’s had to relinquish control of the same land in the early 90’s so that the Giants could hopefully stay in their beloved bay area instead of moving to St. Pete.  They understood that even though it would have left them with a greater fan base, potentially, that it was more important to the overall interest of the Bay Area to have that inter-area rivalry.  Now the situation comes full circle, and only a team like the Giants wouldn’t be able to understand that…

    …and Sim.  Yes, I agree (being from Fremont) that the area has always been very much 49ers/Giants territory.  However, a lot of that merely has to do with the fact that they’ve been there longer and more permanently than the two teams to the east.  What I noticed from my family having Sharks season tickets is that more than history, San Jose residents ultimately have pride in their city.  They don’t want to be #3, they want to be #1 in the Bay Area.  The fans that are truly strong Giants fans will stay the way they are, but the ones who were Giants fans based on location/history will latch on to the team that represents them and their home.  Plus, you argue that most of the wealth comes from the NW of SJ, which is true…and means nothing to the overall argument.  So the rich people in Cupertino will continue going to Giants games…I’m sure the A’s will find a way to fill their luxury boxes, because there are still companies out there that don’t reside in only the southwest bay.

  10. Sim said...

    GiantFan and A’s Fan:  You’re both looking at this thing as though it’s about some sort of objective standard of fairness.  From MLB’s point of view, it’s just a business deal.

    MLB set a precedent by paying off Peter Angelos big time when the Expos moved to Washington, even though that relocation didn’t encroach at all on Baltimore’s territorial rights. 

    In this case, the Giants actually do hold territorial rights as defined in the MLB Constitutions.  The value of those rights was built into the respective franchise prices when Magowan and Wolf bought their teams, so how they came about originally is essentially irrelevent. Therefore, the one absolute certainty in this situation is that IF MLB ever decides to let the A’s go to San Jose, the deal will involve a huge payoff to the Giants, the cost of which will be borne mainly by the A’s.   

    In the DC case, MLB was willing and able to pay off the Orioles ONLY after the District of Columbia finally offered a 100% publicly financed stadium (after many years of offering a 2/3 public, 1/3 private deal).  That windfall made the deal rich enough that MLB could satisfy Angelos.

    Here, San Jose is offering no public financing at all.  And if SJ officials try to sweeten the deal, the public will veto it, and perhaps terminate the political careers of those officials.  All the principals understand this reality. 

    So where is the incentive for Selig & Co. to take on the Giants over a messy issue like territorial rights?  Where does the money come from the fund the inevitable massive payoff of the Giants?  I’m just not seeing it.

  11. Ken Arneson said...

    The rich people I know who live in the currently-defined A’s territory are mostly Giants fans, too.  I don’t see how moving to Santa Clara County really changes anything in that regard.

    I am certain, though, that there are far more of these big-spending types in the South Bay than there are in the East Bay, and by moving closer to them, the A’s will certainly convert quite a few of them.

  12. Alex said...

    Sim’s last post just about summed up the reality of the situation, but I would like to address the very end of it. Selig’s incentive to me is quite clear: his personal relationship with Lew Wolff. Selig didn’t give a rat’s behind about the A’s for years until Wolff bought the club, and now all of a sudden he’s forming committees and making what seem like daily proclomations that the A’s need an improved situation so they can THRIVE in the 21st century (a century in which, by the way, the A’s have arguably “thrived” already by making the playoffs in half of the seasons so far, more than most other teams).

    I’m probably overstating the importance of Selig and Wolff’s comraderie, but the media sure won’t shut up about how they were old frat buddies, etc., and it makes me wonder if Buddy is willing to go a little further than usual.

    But of course, that doesn’t answer the REAL question at the end of your post: where does the money come from? Cause you’re right, there will most definitely be a huge payoff to the Giants.

  13. Sim said...

    Alex,  Even for a frat buddy, Selig won’t put any deal before the MLB Executive Committee and full ownership unless he can credibly present it as a win for all ownership groups involved. 

    More bluntly: Any viable San Jose deal has to make the A’s a lot richer, the Giants a lot richer, and the other 28 owners at least a little bit richer.  If the money for all that enrichment isn’t coming from the taxpayers of San Jose, where is it coming from?

  14. Sim said...

    Also, to Alex’s point about Selig’s new-found urgency over the A’s situation, the A’s are now the last piece of the puzzle that Selig has been putting together for 2 decades to get every MLB team into a money-printing facility.

    The Marlins just got their publicly-funded boondoggle.  That takes even the bogus threat of contraction off the table, since the A’s now would have no contraction partner.  No other MLB team is currently seeking a new stadium, and only 1 other team (the Rays) is likely to push for one in the next 10-20 years. 

    So for Selig, this is about finishing the job that has been his most important legacy as commissioner.

  15. A'sFan said...

    Sim, I guess I wish I was looking at this with the law background you clearly seem to have.  However, I’m not arguing the point based on “fairness”.  The fact of the matter is that the territorial rights were given (by the A’s and MLB) to open up areas that the Giants could try to find a new home so that they didn’t move to Florida.  Legally, I would think it would be just as easy for Selig to say that it was an agreement made with former ownership (two owners ago, I believe) and didn’t transfer with new ownership (especially because a new stadium had been built).  I’m not disagreeing that there would probably be some amount of money trading hands, because ultimately the Giants ownership would throw a hissy fit and Selig would have to give them their way just to not have anarchy on his hands.  I’m just saying legally that I belive that MLB could argue that they don’t deserve money and the A’s have the land and that ultimately the only money trading hands would be between the Giants/MLB and their lawyers.  Like I said, it won’t work that way, but it could. 

    As far as Selig’s buddy-buddy relationship with Wolff goes, I figure there’s probably something to be said for that.  I think there’s probably more to be said for the fact that Selig gets all giddy about the idea of any team that wants a new ballpark getting one on his watch.  He’s got to be thinking that if he got new stadiums in Minnesota and Miami approved, that one in the Bay Area should be just as possible.

    Ultimately, I just really think the Giants need the A’s. Moving the A’s isn’t like putting another team IN SF.  Fans are going to be fans regardless of where either team is located, and people with civic pride will be fans of whoever is in their city.  Ultimately, Wolff isn’t even the man with the money in the partnership, and if the Gap thinks they really want San Jose, they’ll pay to get it.

  16. Sim said...

    A’s Fan:  I hear where you’re coming from, and I agree that it’s good for baseball overall to have the A’s in the Bay Area.  But it would also be good for baseball to have a 3rd team in New York; yet that will never happen unless someone can come up with a billion dollars to pay off the Yankees and Mets.

    I’m not sure what the exact arrangements were when the Giants obtained their rights to Santa Clara (at that time, the American League and the National League were still separate legal entities).  But as a contractual matter today, it frankly doesn’t matter.

    Legally, the Giants territorial rights are part of MLB’s Constitutions, with boundaries spelled out explicitly.  Changing those rights requires an amendment to the Constitutions (3/4 vote of owners), because in effect you’re taking away an asset that the current Giants ownership paid for and giving it to the current A’s owners.

    That isn’t going to happen unless the Giants are paid off to their satisfaction.  And that, in turn, isn’t going to happen unless the money for the payoff comes from outside MLB—in other words, from San Jose taxpayers or investors.

    I’m not necessarily opposed to that, but I really don’t see it happening. Do you?

  17. Sim said...

    I guess I should make clear that this seems like a classic case of San Jose being played by MLB. 

    MLB needs San Jose in the picture because otherwise Oakland and other East Bay jurisdictions have no incentive to step up to the plate with a new ballpark plan. 

    And there are simply NO other viable baseball markets left anywhere – just look a t the pathetic charade the Marlins tried to pull off with San Antonio a couple of years ago, and even that would have required paying off the Astros for TV rights. 

    Vegas is a complete joke (it may be slightly more viable as a MLB market than Bakersfield or Fresno, but only slightly).  With Portland having abandoned its interest in MLB (and that would also require paying the Mariners for TV rights), Sacramento is the only other real possibility.  But realistically Sacramento won’t come into play, if at all, unless they lose the Kings. 

    So as much as Wolf would no doubt love to be in San Jose, MLB sees the South Bay as a way to pressure the East Bay into ponying up.  If MLB gets lucky, San Jose will pony up so much that MLB can pay off the Giants and throw the East Bay overboard.  But I don’t think Selig, et al. expect that to happen. 

    Right now, San Jose isn’t ponying up at all.  City officials there are just talking about making land available for a privately-funded ballpark.  From the perspective of Bud Selig and Bob DuPuy, that’s not serious.  Certainly it isn’t anything that’s going to make them revisit the Giants territorial rights.

  18. A'sFan said...

    Sim, I see what you’re saying.  Like I said, I agree with the fact that a large sum of money will probably have to change hands for this to happen…I guess I just stubbornly don’t see the point of it.  Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they put it to a vote and got the necessary 3/4 in favor.  The only reason it would be questionable to pass is because it would set a future precedent.  Though I can’t imagine there are that many other locales that would be worried about a second (or third) team wanting to move into town, which is really the only reason owners wouldn’t want to set a precedent. 

    As to MLB playing San Jose…to a certain point I suppose that true in any situation where a team talks about moving.  It’s even the situation when players are trying to find new homes.  Having lived in Vegas (and seeing what’s going on there economically now), I could see the casino owners wanting a team there, and could even see the team being moderately successful.  Not from a home fan’s standpoint, really, but from a fan of teams coming into town.  Think of how easy it would be to get five to ten thousand Yankee fans in town for a three game weekend series in June.  It would give fans from other cities a reason to take a vacation to Vegas, which is all the casino folk need to make their money.  That being said, I don’t see the A’s necessarily being the team to move there.  I think what upsets me most about the situation is that my hometown of Fremont was too dumb to realize what having a pro sports team could have done as a whole for the city.  I think they just saw the undesirable parts that they see when they unfortunately go to a game at the cement donut and assume that’s exactly what things in Fremont would start to look like.  Not to mention it was even more embarrassing to me that the city decided to listen to business owners at Pacific Commons who didn’t want the team to be at the original location.  Why the city even cared about what Costco/Lowe’s thought is beyond me. 

    So it’s probably that anger (and years of going to Sharks games where I can see how the city of San Jose can support it’s home team) that forces me to latch on to the idea of San Jose being a viable option.

  19. Sim said...

    A South Bay stadium deal won’t get ANY votes, and Selig won’t even present it to the Exec. Committee, unless it’s accompanied by some kind of a deal that makes the Giants happy.

    And with San Jose offering no significant public money, I can’t see how that’s possible. 

    SJ is being played by MLB.  And the sure sign of that is MLB’s consistent “no comment” on the territorial rights question. MLB wants San Jose to believe it’s in the picture, so the pressure stays on Oakland.  Or, better yet, they’d LOVE to see San Jose offer a 100% public financed stadium deal, a la Washington.  Short of that, though, they’ll never open the territorial rights question.  Too expensive.

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