Why Lew Wolff is the last great owner in baseball

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I’ve long shared the opinion of many long-suffering A’s fans that Lew Wolff is a prick. Make that, a prick in khakis who always seems to be sporting a virgin white cardigan or blue blazer from his days sucking up to Dean Wormer.*

*Pictured above at another A’s sell out (no lines at the coffee concession).

By Andrew Pridgen

It has been since Rockies’ tired-eyed manager Walt Weiss was the scrappy franchise’s third-consecutive rookie of the year that those mighty bat-in-trunk elephants have been hand-wringing instead of hoisting World Series trophies.

In that time, everyone else got a new stadium that plays like a band box and looks like it belongs in a snow globe. The A’s still occupy a relic that has slightly less seismic and structural damage—not to mention the same architects—as its namesake in Rome.

The remarkable bubble of venture capital-buoyed hope has the A’s regional baseball rivals across the bay playing host to underage interns who earn more than the GNP of your average American family. And while the city of Oakland has felt some financial ripples, it is still decidedly the waterfront whose haute cuisine is Home of Chicken and Waffles (actual name) instead of oysters on a half shell, a skyline about to be trampled by AT-ATs and a crime rate still high enough to keep rents, well, rentable.

The A’s are the team which plays baseball in a football stadium. Each game features more tarps than tenants canvassing the seats. Players ruin their white cleats in the locker room wading through sewage as the national media (ESPN, Sports Illustrated, New York Times) only deigns get their feet dirty two weeks a year when the best team in baseball makes its hasty annual playoff appearance and retreat.

In Oakland, there’s no such thing as a long-term contract for its youngest and brightest, unless you consider long-term in the terms of the region’s Tinder users. In that case, two years is a a remarkable run.

For more than two decades, Oakland has been a AAAA ball club. The Cutco. of Major League Baseball. Do a couple years there and go on to ink an eight-figure deal for a real team in a real city which still has an actual newspaper of record, a stadium whose scoreboard isn’t 8-bit, fans who wear Dockers and a polo, not green spandex and yellow afro wigs in the bleachers and players who walk up to Rick Ross instead of Wham!

Concessions rarely sells any player-specific garb in Oakland, unless it’s a jersey that says ______’s future All-Star pitcher here or it’s a Coco Crisp afro puffs shirt (minted promptly after he cut said afro). Because Coco likes Oakland and Oakland likes Coco and in his fifth A’s campaign he is not only the longest-tenured Athletic, but he signed with the team when most of the A’s current starting rotation was still in high school. Even as the A’s send a franchise-tying record (1975) seven All Stars to the plate or the mound this year to cookie-cutter field in Minnesota, that number practically doubles with A’s now on other teams who will hop over the chalk line with their brethren still doing time in the nickel dime since the dawn of the Crisp Era.

Surely the owner should get some credit for signing difference-making free agents out of the only place—Kansas City—that Oakland can; for keeping legs and arms so fresh that other teams are willing to trade away their top (proven) talent just to sniff the jocks of their draft picks; for keeping fans in the seats despite a very real risk of getting impaled on some Rebar en route back to the seat slurping on a Saag’s brat.

All the while Wolff has kept ticket prices so low a family CAN afford to go. Hell, Mom and Dad can walk up July 19 vs. the first-place Orioles and buy four second deck “value” view seats, four hot dogs, four Cokes and one foam finger and STILL not sniff three digits. That’s the equivalent of 1.4 club level seats (hot dog and garlic fries not included) to watch a team across the bay who’s banking you’ll go for the wifi more than its current product on the field.

Instead Lew Wolff draws the ire of the Oakland City Council (the second-best sideshow in town) and the scorn of A’s fans. Sure, Wolff would rather watch his team be spirited away to the monied land of bloated dot.com campuses and battery-operated traffic jams, than stay on the shoreline named for one of California’s most venerable drinkers who also happened to write about dogs once in awhile.

In spite of, or maybe because of his George Jeffersonian aspirations to move on up, Wolff has persevered in the days of $2 billion team valuations and $8 billion TV deals. He’s the Hyman Roth of baseball enjoying his Cuban Céspedes cake and eating it too as his team’s worth soars in spite of his lack of interest in spending the capital to improve it, dodging Bud Selig’s black-fedora’d assassins at every turn.

He does not connote the image of the crusty, curmudgeonly, cigar-chomping bollocks-to-the-bottom-line baseball-obsessed owner of yore who have died off or been picked off over the span of Wolff’s 10-year tenure which has seen his $180 million investment grow ten-fold (conservatively).

He doesn’t have the turtleneck-and-blazer scowl of Steinbrenner, the eye for disastrous seat-filling promotion of Veeck or even the foresight of his predecessor Finley to make a future rapper named Stanley VP for a day at 15. What he does have is a movie starring Brad Pitt about his team—and the amalgam of him as the villain. And that’s pretty good.

A’s fan’s alternative to Wolff is to be owned by a hedge fund, a group of men and women (mostly men) who have propped up this country’s economy over the last decade by fracking industry, purging pensions and gouging students in search of higher education—not to mention what they did to the real estate market. They’re frauders, collusion experts and racketeers, and now they have their hands in sport because until about a half-decade ago, it was a commodity of the undervalued sort.

You have the choice between Lew Wolff’s shenanigans or the chicanery of a Haliburton-sized industrial baseball complex taking your money and turning out your children with Build-A-Bear Workshops® in center field. Wolff is the last of the old man face glowering behind Pope glass near the press box shoving a $2 hot dog down his gullet and shakily bringing a napkin to his parched lips to wipe the mustard. Franchises are simply now folded into a portfolio. And if the money is in Canada or Texas, that’s where the corporate carpetbagging A’s would go.

The Lew Wolff A’s stay in the Bay Area. Remember these words Wolff said yesterday when discussing the long-term lease stalemate at the Coliseum: “We’d rather stay in the Bay Area than move to Timbuktu.”

That’s right, a multi-billionaire still referring to San Antonio and Montreal—two cities that regularly make all those liveable/affordable slideshows—as the middle of BFE. Because, they, simply put, are not on the rare soil that still makes the Bay Area great and unique and ignorable and interesting and most of all—fun.

Yes you Lew, just by being an actual person, not a corporation-as-person, you keep the fun in the game and the product shows on the field.

You’re a pain in the elephant’s behind. And I hope you stay for a long, long time.

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