A major shift in the A’s hierarchy came down Thursday as the team announced Lew Wolff will step down as managing partner and sell most of his ownership stake in the club.
Majority owner John Fisher, who has become more actively involved in the A’s ballpark search, will assume managing partner duties with Wolff, 81, being given the title of chairman emeritus. Major League owners approved the transition Thursday during meetings in Chicago.
In addition, team president Michael Crowley is vacating his role and will slide into a senior advisor role, with San Jose Earthquakes president Dave Kaval now taking over as the A’s president as well. The Earthquakes are under the same ownership as the A’s.
“John and I have been working through (the transition) for over a year,” Wolff told CSN California in a phone interview. “I think it’s time for me to be the gray-haired guru or that kind of sort. John’s got a lot of energy, and he should enjoy this like I’ve enjoyed it. I’m pretty pleased with everything. It’s a still a great organization, despite a couple of down years.”
Fisher, in a club statement, thanked Wolff for his time at the helm.
“I want to thank Lew for his leadership over the last 11 years,” Fisher said. “His initiative and love of the game of baseball brought my family to the A’s, and we would not be involved without him. Lew has given the organization all of his energy and experience for the last 11 years and I look forward to a new chapter in our working relationship and friendship. It is a privilege for me to steward the A’s at this important moment for the franchise.”
The A’s have made the postseason four times in the 11 years since Fisher and Wolff purchased the team in April 2005. But they’re coming off back-to-back last place finishes for just the second time in Oakland history, and fans have long been disenchanted with what they view as a wealthy ownership group unwilling to invest the money necessary to acquire and/or maintain star players.
The A’s believe their fortunes moving forward are tied to building a new ballpark that will attract bigger crowds and create revenue in ways the outdated and broken down Oakland Coliseum can’t. That search for a ballpark has dragged on for a decade, though Wolff reiterated Thursday that Fisher is focused on remaining in Oakland.
Wolff has said in the past that he sees the current Coliseum site as the best spot for the A’s to build a new stadium. Though he wouldn’t comment specifically on a ballpark location Thursday, it’s known that he and Fisher haven’t always seen eye to eye over the ballpark search, with Fisher perhaps being more enthusiastic about the possibility of options elsewhere in Oakland.
But despite Fisher getting more hands-on in the pursuit of a ballpark, Wolff said that didn’t persuade him to sell most of his ownership stake and step down as managing partner.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I was 20 years younger,” Wolff said.
He expressed optimism that the A’s would decide on a stadium site soon. Things still remain unsettled, particularly in relation to building at the Coliseum, because of the Raiders’ presence as a co-tenant at the Coliseum. Raiders owner Mark Davis has been negotiating to move his team to Las Vegas, though that situation has yet to be resolved.
“I think the big issue is putting together the size of (any new baseball) stadium and a bunch of technical details that they’re all working on right now,” Wolff said. “ … I think what John wants to do is make sure that the next commitment of this kind of nature — which is gonna be for 50 years or more, who knows how long? — is in the best location possible. It’s worth the time to look at what might be available. Any ballpark that can be closer to downtown is better if it can be (accomplished), if economically it works. You’re dealing with an urban community and sites are difficult.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf issued the following statement: "As Oakland’s Mayor, I want to say how much I have personally enjoyed working with Lew Wolff.
"Under Lew Wolff and Mike Crowley the A’s recommitted to Oakland. And now with John Fisher and Dave Kaval’s new roles within the organization and their extensive expertise in private stadium development, I look forward to ushering in another incredible era for the team and our city.
"I am thrilled to be in partnership with the A’s on the development of a new facility for the team in Oakland, and will enjoy continuing to work with Lew Wolff as he moves to build a much-needed, new hotel in Downtown Oakland."
A team spokesperson said Fisher wouldn’t be commenting beyond the club statement. He has declined to address the media entirely in recent years.