Ray Ratto

New A's man Kaval tasked with performing stadium-sized magic


New A's man Kaval tasked with performing stadium-sized magic

New Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval spent a good two hours Thursday being as broadly informative and detail-vague as possible about the new stadium he has been tasked with building, which is probably the best way for him to proceed, given the following facts:

1. His boss, John Fisher, is in a hurry to get something done on a stadium as part of a broader culture shift for a team that has best been known for Moneyball and Revenue Checks.

2. He replaces both Lew Wolff and Mike Crowley as the second most powerful person in the organization because of his experience getting Avaya Stadium built for the Earthquakes.

3. His hurry to put shovel into dirt is being pressed at one side by Fisher and Major League Baseball, which is considering modifications or even eradication of the revenue sharing structure that the A’s have lived on for years now, and delayed on the other by the Oakland Raiders and the National Football League, which has its own multi-million-dollar trout to flambé.

But opportunity knocks when it knocks, and Kaval didn’t hesitate when Fisher asked him to find a way out of the elaborate trap that is the A’s. He got a small chunk of equity, a raise in salary and a challenge that has left dozens of others on the roadside in ruins.

And while he offered neither a location, a timeline, a deadline, a budget or really anything much beyond repeated talking points about “involving the community” and “studying multiple sites,” he left much to digest, starting with how he became the new Wolff.

Specifically, he built Avaya, the soccer stadium attached to North America’s largest outdoor bar, thus melding two of the planet’s most popular pastimes -- soccer and throwing up outdoors.

The move by Fisher reinforces the notion most recently advanced by his visit to the Howard Terminal site that he is losing patience with the A’s wait-for-an-opening strategy put forth by Wolff. If MLB wants resolution and is willing to cut off access to the revenue sharing cow, the reason why waiting makes sense is gone, and the need to act is nigh.

It also is an acknowledgement that the Raiders’ situation has festered too long for his taste. He thought the Raiders would be in Los Angeles by now with the San Diego Chargers. He thought Mark Davis’ flirtations with San Antonio might result in something. Now he is stuck waiting for a resolution in Davis’ attempt to move to Las Vegas, and either sees an opportunity to cozy in a meaningful and legally binding way with the twin political thickets of Oakland and Alameda County to get what he wants now.

In addition, Fisher knows that roughly half of the A’s day-to-day support has eroded since bought the team from Steve Schott nearly 12 years ago, and needs an infusion of excitement to replace the build-for-the-future mantra that has produced more build-for-the-future mantras.

Being a real estate man, he believes real estate can do that for him, and at least in the short term, there is little evidence to suggest that he is wrong. Whether cities should bear the brunt of those dreams is another debate, but Fisher has clearly decided he can no longer idle about waiting for the perfect confluence of outside events to dictate to him.

Thus, Dave Kaval, 40 years younger than Wolff, most publicly confortable than Crowley (and definitely more so than the hologrammatic suggestion that is Fisher), is now the man charted with extricating the Athletics from their self-imposed stasis. Whether or not he can manage this trick of the light remains to be seen, but time is a’wastin,’ both on his task and the time he can spend not explaining them.

Miami is the most relentlessly mistreated baseball town in baseball


Miami is the most relentlessly mistreated baseball town in baseball

There is a place no commissioner dares go in the modern world, and that is to pick a fight with an owner’s financial prerogatives.

But Rob Manfred is faced with that very problem now – all because Bruce Sherman has been allowed to gut the Miami Marlins for what by one count is the fifth time in the franchise’s 25-year history.

Clearly the time has come for him to address with his 30 employers the conundrum of the age, namely this:

What is more important to the business, a large market systematically robbed and disregarded, or a billionaire?

Usually, this would be an easy choice – the billionaire. It is how Jeffrey Loria passed muster by waving money in the face of Montreal Expos owner Claude Brochu, then swapped the team out for the one in Florida so that John Henry could get out from under the Marlins and buy into the Boston Red Sox. The money always wins.

But Miami is now all but mined out as a baseball city – never strong in the best of times, which were few enough, but particularly degraded in the last decade and change, first by Loria and now by Sherman. The trades of Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton and, in all likelihood, Marcell Ozuna, all for payroll relief, is a story as familiar as it is craven – the baseball team as ATM.

The argument that the Marlins are just starting over to fix an untenable situation doesn’t fly, of course, because Sherman’s undercapitalized position as owner is something the other 29 owners knew when they raced his approval through the process to be rid of Loria. The idea of MLB taking over the team, as it essentially did when Loria sold them the Expos, was never considered, certainly not at the $1.2 billion price tag.

In other words, they got rid of a problem by assuming the same problem, and the cost is the viability of baseball in southern Florida. Given the minimal relocation options, and the clear bad-faith lawsuit that would await them if they left Miami with a stadium the city paid for, relocation is unlikely, thus leaving the Marlins crippled forever.

Surely the owners must know that this is a strategy that only benefits Sherman when he sells, probably sooner rather than later, and maybe that’s what the owners all want to see – a franchise that can’t fail no matter how comprehensively it fails.

Whatever Manfred may feel about it personally, his job description requires that he bite his tongue. It is not his job to undo what his employers have done -- that's how Fay Vincent got run off.

But, and the owners should have to recognize the danger of their short-term view, this is now the NFL has reached its current crisis – by telling the customers that the entire endeavor is only about the care and feeding of the owners. That doesn’t endure over the long haul.

Or maybe it does. Maybe capitalism has reached its logical extreme in sports, celebrating not the games and its players but saluting one more festival of arbitrage. Maybe all the games should be shown on CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg TV rather than the current networks.

In the meantime, Miami maintains its status as the most relentlessly mistreated baseball town in baseball, and given how close we are to Oakland, that’s saying something.


Ed Lee's favorite team was The City itself

Ed Lee's favorite team was The City itself

Ed Lee was an activist for San Francisco his entire life, before and while he was its mayor. He fought aggressively for the city both conceptually and in practice from the time he entered public life as a defender of immigrants rights in the 1980s until he was elected mayor in 2011.

Thus, his passing of a heart attack early Tuesday morning left a hole in the city and its view of itself that will not be easy to fill. This includes his city-centric sports view, which was always “What’s good for the city is good by me.”

Like most mayors, he was there for the grand times, like the last two Giants World Series parades and the two Warriors arena ribbon cuttings. He was an unabashed facilitator for the Warrior projects in particular, even though the Pier 30/32 project had to be relocated to the south when public opposition to the project overwhelmed his ability to move opinions.

He also was the mayor on duty when the 49ers left for Santa Clara in 2014, though that move was already well in the works before he took office, which is why it is typically misleading to credit or blame a mayor for an owner’s whims.

Lee, though, was an unambiguously pro-business mayor, and insofar as sports franchises are actually businesses with games attached, he was all-in on the Giants and, later, the Warriors. Both teams sent statements of condolence, acknowledging that he was more than willing to be at their sides when his political or persuasive skills were required.

His replacement for the moment, acting mayor London Breed, will likely not have as visible a presence on the sporting landscape, as the Warriors arena project is already well underway and the Giants are safely ensconced at Third and King.

Lee’s measure as mayor, though, was not his sporting profile, as it has been for other mayors across the country. His favorite team was The City itself, and he fought for it passionately until his death. In that way, he was as important to his constituency as Buster Posey or Stephen Curry is to theirs, so in the end he seems less like an interloper on the sporting landscape and more a passionate advocate for the city in which they played, or will play in the future.