San Jose suing MLB for not allowing A's to move

June 18, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The city of San Jose is playing hardball to get the Oakland A's into a new home in the South Bay. The San Jose City Council voted Tuesday to sue Major League Baseball over its refusal to let the A's move.

The lawsuit names baseball Commissioner Bud Selig as a defendant along with the 30 teams that make up Major League Baseball. The city's complaint is that MLB has unlawfully conspired to limit competition by controlling the location of teams.

A 12 to 14-acre area just west of Diridon Station and just south of HP Pavilion is where San Jose city officials would like the A's to move. Lew Wolff, the principal owner of the Oakland A's, owns options to the city-owned property and says that if they can get the property, he'll put up $500 million to build a stadium.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed believes the stadium would bring in $1.5 million a year in tax revenue and $130 million a year into the local economy. But MLB gave South Bay territorial rights to the San Francisco Giants and so far, MLB and the Giants have refused to allow the A's to move in.

Reed said Tuesday that the city has waited long enough. "So, I thought it was necessary to file this action to get rid of the territorial restrictions so a future council or future mayor could negotiate for a team without interference by Major League Baseball," he said.

So, the city has hired Peninsula attorney Joe Cotchett to file a lawsuit. "This is all about economics. And, you have a city like San Jose, the tenth largest city in the United States, cannot get a baseball club. I can name you other cities that are pulling for San Jose for the same reason. They want the right and the chance to bring a baseball team to their city, their county, whatever it might be," he said.

Michael Mulcahy heads a citizen's group leading the charge to get the A's to move. "Obviously, this is not Lew's decision. Major League Baseball has not given him the decision to move, so San Jose needed to take its own business in its own way and try to force the issue with Major League Baseball," he told ABC7 News.

Reed has hinted in the past that he's considered legal action, but the city has always deferred to the principal owner of the A's -- Lew Wolff. Asked about the lawsuit Wolff said, "I have no details. However, I am not in favor of legal action or legal threats to solve business issues."

Wolff is a former fraternity brother of Selig and has consistently stuck to baseball's process, which is that three-quarters of the teams must approve the A's move into Giants territory. In 2009, Selig commissioned a three-member committee to review the move, but one of the members of the committee was Corey Busch, former Executive Vice President for the Giants.

"Bud Selig appointed a commission to look at this very proposal that you just mentioned not one, not two, but four years ago. They're still studying the situation," Cotchett told ABC7 News. Cotchett believes Major League Baseball intends to study the issue forever and that's why San Jose is suing.

"The National Hockey League, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the NBA, all of them live by the anti-trust laws. Only baseball gets away with murder in my opinion, Cotchett said.

MLB does have an anti-trust exemption upheld by the Supreme Court, but that case dates back 91 years to when baseball was deemed to be more of a game than a business. The assumption that it allows MLB to set its own rules regarding competition is ripe for a challenge. And, each time it's been challenged on location issues, the league has opted for settling the dispute rather than going to court.

The most recent case was the Montreal Expos moving to Washington D.C. to become the Nationals. That happened in 2005 and the Baltimore team objected. Selig worked out a deal to compensate the Baltimore owner and keep the issue out of court. Cotchett believes Selig knows he's vulnerable and he expects there will be a settlement.

Selig's office released a statement Tuesday saying, "The lawsuit is an unfounded attack on the fundamental structures of a professional sports league. It is regrettable that the city has resorted to litigation that has no basis in law or in fact."

The San Francisco Giants had no comment on San Jose's lawsuit Tuesday.


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