San Jose mayors blast MLB for excluding city
The Oakland Coliseum is seen in 2015 after an A's baseball game. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    San Jose officials are making a renewed push to clear a path for a future professional baseball team in the city.

    A group of former San Jose mayors and current Mayor Matt Mahan sent a sharply worded letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred calling for an end to the San Francisco Giants’ claim to territorial rights over the South Bay. If left in place, this claim could preclude any future professional ball clubs, such as an expansion team, from calling San Jose home.

    The letter was sent to Manfred on June 15, the same day Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo signed a bill granting $380 million in public financing to help pay for a new stadium for the A’s in Las Vegas.

    “San Jose and Silicon Valley present a unique market opportunity for an expansion MLB team or existing club. We must disabuse those who might conflate San Jose with our smaller neighbor to the north, San Francisco,” reads the letter, which was obtained by San José Spotlight.

    The Giants’ claim of rights is what killed the progression of the A’s from potentially relocating to downtown San Jose more than a decade ago. The Giants also actively fought against the removal of those rights beginning in 2009 for five years when the A’s were first considering moving to San Jose.

    Officials previously said they believe the Giants were not only lobbying MLB leaders, but providing funding to local groups opposing the A’s moving to San Jose.

    “It was one of the most outrageous and dishonorable things that have been done in the world of sports,” former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery told San José Spotlight about the Giants’ actions. “You look at the situation that might have been and it would be the San Jose A’s down here, and the Giants up there, both making a lot of money.”

    Territory rights

    Territorial rights outline how areas surrounding home ballparks are divvied up among teams by the league. In the three other markets where two professional baseball teams exist—Los Angeles, New York and Chicago—the teams share markets entirely, but portions of the Bay Area are carved up between the A’s and Giants.

    The territory rights for Santa Clara County were previously unassigned, but were, ironically, gifted to the Giants in 1990 by MLB owners—including Walter Haas, then owner of the A’s. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported the agreement for the rights was on the condition the Giants move to Santa Clara County, which never happened, suggesting the rights should have been taken away.

    “While Haas apparently conceded those rights without any legal consideration, the Giants have exploited Haas’ goodwill to the detriment of everyone else in MLB,” the letter reads. The mayors also noted such a territorial constraint binds “no other city in any other professional sports league in the nation.”

    The Giants and MLB did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    “We’ve reached out to the commissioner to express our strong belief that San Jose should no longer be the only major American city in any professional sport to be legally barred from hosting a team,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “This is a timely request given the A’s impending departure, and with increasing interest in MLB expansion.”

    Baseball officials and city leaders, including Liccardo, former A’s managing partner Lew Wolff and McEnery, have repeatedly placed blame for the A’s never making it to San Jose squarely at the feet of MLB, the Giants and the team’s then-president Larry Baer.

    “It continues to make you angry,” McEnery said. “Obviously it’s important and we ought to get that back, whatever we have to do.”

    The letter is signed by Mahan and former San Jose mayors Liccardo, Chuck Reed, Ron Gonzales and McEnery. The group of leaders flaunted the region’s tech-fueled economic engine, along with a bounty of potential corporate partnerships.

    The letter touted downtown San Jose as a good fit for a stadium due to transit access, housing and future development, including Google’s Downtown West plan. The mayors also underscored the potential loss of revenue for MLB from television contracts with the A’s leaving for a smaller media market in Las Vegas.

    Liccardo declined to comment for this story. Reed did not respond to requests for comment.

    Gonzales said even if a chance at bringing another baseball team to the city isn’t on the immediate horizon, the city should push to resolve the claim of rights issue quickly.

    “I just feel that having this cloud over our heads is not productive for the future,” Gonzales said. “I think what Mayor Liccardo is trying to do is remove any hurdles that exist in the event something does happen, and the city can respond quickly to whatever opportunity there is.”

    McEnery said in addition to the letter sent to MLB, there will be attempts by officials to contact the Giants ownership to gauge their view on the potential for a new team in San Jose.

    “The people of San Jose have a right to have the opportunity to have a Major League Baseball team,” McEnery said.

    The mayors, in their letter, left the next move up to Manfred.

    “We welcome any communication with you or your office that will hasten the release of San Jose and Silicon Valley from the real or imagined constraints of ‘territorial rights.'”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

    Letter to Commissioner Manfred
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