San Jose has been rebuffed by Major League Baseball once again.
Commissioner Rob Manfred issued a terse response this week to Mayor Matt Mahan and four former San Jose mayors who called on MLB to remove the San Francisco Giants’ South Bay territorial rights to clear a path for a possible expansion team in the city.
The short answer from Manfred—it’s not happening any time soon.
“I am pleased to hear of San Jose’s continuing interest in Major League Baseball. As you know, however, we are currently involved in a complicated relocation process with the Oakland A’s,” Manfred wrote. “At least until that process is complete, we are not in a position to take any other action with respect to the territories in Northern California or to consider the possibility of expansion.”
While Mahan and former Mayors Sam Liccardo, Chuck Reed, Ron Gonzales and Tom McEnery sent Manfred a two-page letter on June 15 outlining why they feel San Jose should be a leading option for an expansion team and has been unfairly stifled, Manfred’s June 26 response was all of one paragraph.
“Thank you for interest in the national pastime,” Manfred closed the letter.
The Mercury News was the first to report on the response letter Tuesday.
Mahan noted in a statement the city will continue its efforts to bring professional baseball to San Jose.
“As someone who preaches the virtue of focus, I respect the Commissioner’s desire to focus on the A’s relocation but this will continue to be a priority of ours,” Mahan said. “San Jose and our residents deserve a Major League Baseball team, and frankly, the MLB deserves to be here in our city.”
The rejection letter from Manfred is not the first time San Jose has been unsuccessful in overcoming the territory rights issue, though this was much more swift.
The Giants’ claim and defense of rights to Santa Clara County territory killed the potential for the Oakland A’s to relocate to downtown San Jose more than a decade ago.
As part of a protracted debate at the time, then-MLB Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee to look into the issue of whether the Giants deserved to keep the rights. After four years, the committee came up with no official response, frustrating city leaders and A’s officials. Manfred’s response this week came just 11 days after the mayors sent their request letter to him.
The A’s are now preparing to move to Las Vegas, with Nevada lawmakers approving $380 million in public financing to help pay for a new stadium on the Strip.
The Giants were gifted the rights to Santa Clara County by MLB owners in 1990, including then-A’s owner Walter Haas, assuming the team would make a move to Santa Clara or San Jose from Candlestick Park. When that didn’t happen, the Giants retained the rights, precluding other teams from moving into the South Bay.
Some have argued the rights to Santa Clara County should be shared. In three other two-team markets in MLB—Los Angeles, New York and Chicago—the two teams share the territory fully.
Former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he wasn’t surprised MLB wants to focus on the A’s and likely the Milwaukee Brewers, which are both working toward creating new stadiums for their teams.
“I didn’t expect that this would all happen at once,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. But long-term, he thinks there could be changes coming. He noted there is pressure building for Congress to weigh in on MLB’s century-old antitrust exemption, a commercial freedom worth billions that also provides the league relative impunity to decide which teams play where.
If that exemption were to be struck down, “it could cost owners dearly in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenues for everything from apparel to TV rights, to beer sponsorships,” Liccardo said. “Based on the rumblings I am hearing, I expect there will be some interest amongst team owners in softening Major League Baseball’s positions on territorial rights and other issues related to this antitrust exemption.”
The U.S. Supreme Court granted that monopoly power to MLB in 1922. Following MLB’s blockade to the A’s moving to San Jose, the city brought a lawsuit challenging the exemption all the way to the Supreme Court, which denied hearing the case and handing San Jose a loss after a three-year legal battle.
Liccardo said even if it takes a few years, the city should be ready to act if an opportunity arises.
“We are in the early innings of a nine inning game,” he said.