Oakland A’s Battle the San Francisco Giants for Territory

By:  Andrew Riley, RulingSports.com Intern

The relocation of the Oakland A’s has been an issue since 2006, after Lew Wolff–co-owner of the Oakland A’s–announced the team would be moving to Fremont, California. The move to Fremont fell through and San Jose became the target for relocation by team management. The problem though, is that San Jose falls under the territorial rights of the San Francisco Giants, so the two ball clubs have been at odds ever since Wolff’s intentions were announced. The issue has since grown in intensity over the years to the point where, on March 7th, 2012, the two clubs engaged in a war of press releases with the Oakland A’s firing the first shot. Each team’s press release basically outlined its intentions or strategy to obtain or keep the territory of San Jose. The rules of engagement are governed by the MLB Constitution, which will be analyzed in this article to determine potential outcomes.

The A’s challenge the fact that the Giants have territorial rights to San Jose.  Historically, the Giants were granted the territory of Santa Clara County, in which San Jose is located.  The A’s have asserted that Santa Clara was only granted to the Giants as a territory as a gesture of good-will to aid in the Giants’ relocation. However, since the Giants did not move, the Oakland A’s claim they should not hold exclusive rights to Santa Clara County. Furthermore, the A’s emphasize that the Bay Area is the only two-market region that does not share territorial rights. The A’s press release concludes, strangely, that they are not “seeking a move that seeks to alter or in any manner disturb the MLB territorial rights.” That statement seems to contradict the first half of the press release, as well as the general concept of moving directly into the territorial rights of another team. The only conceptual way for the A’s to move to San Jose without altering the territorial rights of the Giants, would be for the A’s to provide a fee to the Giants.  This is a concept that is neither explicitly allowed nor disallowed by the MLB constitution.  However, even if the A’s paid the Giants a fee, this action would likely still be considered a “manner [that can] disturb the MLB territorial rights.”

The San Francisco Giants sent issued a rebuttal the same day to challenge the assertions made by the A’s. Essentially, the Giants are placing their position on top of the strength of the MLB Constitution.  In the rebuttal they stated that regardless of how the Giants initially received the County of Santa Clara as their territorial right, the MLB reviewed the separation of the territory on four separate occasions, after the Giants received Santa Clara County.  These reviews included a complete review in 1994. Therefore, the Giants claim that since the reviews determined that the territorial rights did not need to be altered, then the current setup must be in the best interest of MLB, which would supersede the grant of Santa Clara County on the premise of relocation. To elaborate, by 1994 the MLB would have had the knowledge that the Giants are likely no longer considering relocation. If so, the results of the review were based on analysis void of any condition concerning a possible move by San Francisco. If the MLB concluded that the current setup was in the best interest of baseball, and the decision was made absent a condition of the Giants relocation. Then, how the Giants obtained Santa Clara is irrelevant. To further strengthen their argument, the Giants highlight the fact that the same territorial rights were added to the MLB Constitution and have survived three affirmations without alteration or challenge. The Giants concluded by stating that their growth during the last twenty years relied heavily on the development of Santa Clara County.

The MLB constitution outlines the roles and responsibilities of MLB baseball clubs, the commissioner, the executive council, and the general rules of operation of the league. However this situation plays out, this document will determine the winner. The key words throughout the constitution and the concept that will determine which side will be the victor is “what is in the best interest of baseball.” On paper, San Francisco’s position is practically unbreakable, in that the current territorial rights are written in the constitution. Article VII describes the “Superseding Effect” stating explicitly that this document supersedes any other agreement and any action taken by a club in respect to another agreement. Having the territorial rights written right into the MLB constitution appears to prevent any action the Oakland A’s can take, since the constitution trumps any other action or agreement.

Ironically however, the weakness of placing the Giants position on the strength of the MLB constitution can be highlighted directly within the press release issued by the Giants. The Giants point out that the territorial rights were re-affirmed on three separate occasions from 2000 to 2008. Why were they re-affirmed? What would have happened if the territorial rights as written in the constitution were not in the best interest of baseball? One could argue that a document that can change three times in eight years is not a strong document at all. The strength portrayed in it is nothing but an illusion. The strength actually lies in what is perceived as best for baseball.

Article V, Section 2(b)(7) of the MLB constitution states that a vote of three-fourths of the Major League clubs is required to amend any provision of the constitution unless specified elsewhere in the document. The amending of territorial rights falls under this standard. This appears to be a very high standard that usually will not be overturned unless something is not in the best interest of baseball. Jim Crane and the Houston Astros may feel that the three-fourths standard is too low, since realignment from the National League to the American League is also explicit in the constitution and subject to the same standard. Yet, the factor that differs in the Oakland A’s situation, is that it does not appear that they have convinced others, including Commissioner Selig, that their move constitutes being in the best interest of baseball. 

Commissioner Selig has been driving force behind interleague play, which has been characterized positively and substantiated as being in the best interest of baseball by attendance records and feedback from the fans. The realignment of the Astros was to allow for year-round interleague action, since the leagues would be balanced. If public support is any indication of what might determine what is in MLB’s best interest I think the Oakland A’s have some work to do. Additionally, Commissioner Selig has not been a driving force behind voicing support of the A’s move out of Oakland.

Since the A’s press release did not provide much guidance into how they intend to proceed victoriously, history shows that they are at least willing to wait for the tide to turn in their favor. The problem for them, of course, is that it does not appear to be turning their way, despite waiting approximately six years for it to do so. The question is then, how much longer are they willing to wait? As it stands right now the San Francisco Giants appear to be in the driver’s seat with the MLB Constitution riding shotgun.

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