It is no secret that Lew Wolff, co-owner of the Oakland Athletics, is a divisive character in bay area baseball among fans but in a recent (June 4, 2014) interview with Bloomberg television he may have made the first steps in mending the relationship between fans and Oakland’s top brass.
It seemed to me that the reporters (Erik Schatzker and Stephanie Ruhle)were trying to bait Lew Wolff into losing his cool or showing some of his patented cold-shoulder-interviewee attitude that we, as fans, have become accustomed to but he didn’t take the bait and managed an eight minute conversation that was informative, positive, and, most importantly, reaffirming for die-hard A’s fans.
The interview begins with Wolff being introduced as, “The most hated man in Oakland” which he laughed off and was, actually, quite charming about. Was there a need to include that line in the introduction? Not if you wanted to keep things civil there wasn’t. It’s the equivalent to introducing your girlfriend at a party by saying, “I’d like to introduce you to my new girlfriend. She isn’t totally ugly.” It’s an extra bit of language that is insulting no matter how complementary the tone is.
From that introduction (and an awkward attempt by Ruhle to lighten the blow of the introduction) the first question, “why couldn’t you make it work in Oakland?” was asked. Ok, starting with the tough questions. Don’t waste time talking about the success of the team and easing into the meat and potatoes of the interview. I can respect that, usually, but behind that intro it seemed a bit like a one-two punch. To his credit, Wolff gave a thoughtful answer where he was quick to acknowledge that they haven’t ruled out Oakland yet but that no solution has been shown either. It is worth noting, because it supports the narrative I’m trying to cram down your throat, that Schatzker spoke over a good chunk of Wolff’s answer to this question.
Wolff noted that most of the fans at the stadium actually come from nearby cities which I’ve heard reported before and makes complete sense and he casually dropped a figure of 700-800 million dollars as the price tag for the stadium he wants to build. When asked why he didn’t just move to a city that MLB would approve, Wolff made it clear that the A’s are a bay area team and that they won’t be moving to Timbuktu (although being the first major league team in Africa would probably be a major draw) and added, after being interrupted mid sentence, that this wasn’t “just business” and that he wanted to “continue the tradition of the A’s”.
As diplomatically as possible, Wolff showed disapproval of the San Jose lawsuit without coming right out and burning any bridges with the city or MLB and restated an oft-stated line that he is almost always against lawsuits. He also stated that selling the team was off the table because the current owners would like to keep the team “in the family” which puts to rest some theories revolving around his eventual sale of the team.
Most importantly to us fans, though, came the revelation that Lew Wolff and the Coliseum Authority are within a couple of weeks of signing a 10 year lease extension. My hope is that this extension agreement includes an immediate upgrade to the score boards but I won’t get my hopes set on that.
I’ll admit, I’ve never watched this program before and know nothing about the reporters but the tone of Schatzker seemed a bit condescending as if he were talking to his great grandfather in the rest home. He interrupted Wolff several times, talked over answers seemed to be asking simple questions in a more aggressive manner than was necessary. Through it all, except for a half second grumpy face at the end of the interview, Wolff was charming and eager to answer questions or, the exact opposite of how he handled his recent interview on 95.7.
What are the takeaways? Wolff isn’t leaving the bay area and probably won’t be leaving Oakland for the next decade, the A’s aren’t for sale and the ownership is, at least publically, doing this for the fans as much as for themselves. Since Wolff has been a part of A’s ownership, I’ve never heard him speak in such a positive and fan-friendly manner. I’m not so delusional to think that he doesn’t have a team of PR experts telling him what to say and when to smile but if the effort is being made to reach out to the fans, good things will happen. There’s no need to reach out to a fan base if you’re planning on leaving them or selling their team, you reach out to a fan base that has become dissatisfied with you and you want to get them back.
We’ll see how this all pans out but I am cutting Wolff a little slack right now as it is clear to me that he isn’t the evil overlord of our beloved baseball team and that he may just have the best interest of the team at heart because, ultimately, the best interest of the team is the best interest to his bottom line.