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Lawyers: Baseball Officials Formally Rejected Oakland A’s Move to San Jose

| December 7, 2013
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A 2013 game at the Oakland Coliseum. The A's are at the center of a court battle to force Major League Baseball to allow the team to move to San Jose. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

A 2013 game at the Oakland Coliseum. The A’s are at the center of a court battle to force Major League Baseball to allow the team to move to San Jose. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

In a surprising development, attorneys for Major League Baseball say Commissioner Bud Selig formally rejected a request by Oakland Athletics ownership to move the team to San Jose last June. That claim comes in a case-management statement prepared in advance of a federal court hearing scheduled next week in San Jose’s lawsuit against the the major leagues. The suit alleges that Major League Baseball interfered with the A’s attempt to relocate to San Jose in part by not making a timely decision on the matter.

But in the newly filed case-management document, attorneys for Major League Baseball say a decision was made and communicated to A’s owner Lew Wolff. “In fact, MLB denied the Athletics’ relocation request on June 17, 2013,” the document says, “one day before this lawsuit was filed. On that date, Commissioner Selig formally notified the Athletics’ ownership that he was not satisfied with the club’s relocation proposal.” (Coincidentally, June 17 was the day after a highly publicized sewage spill following an A’s game at the Oakland Coliseum.)

The letter from Selig to the Athletics has not been made public. The legal filing says that major league officials notified San Jose of its existence on Oct. 22, and offered to share it with the city if it would agree to a “protective order” to keep it confidential and/or agree not to use it for further legal action.  San Jose refused, instead asking the court to force baseball officials to provide the letter.

Nathaniel Grow, writing for the Sports Law Blog, points out that since no one who’s seen the letter will comment on the record, we don’t know whether Selig said the A’s absolutely could not move the franchise, or whether they simply said the proposal they’d submitted needed tweaking. The latter is implied by an anonymous source cited by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte dismissed a major part of San Jose’s suit — allegations that Major League Baseball was guilty of violating federal antitrust law by blocking the A’s move — in an October ruling. The case-management statement filed Friday from both sides in the case states their positions on how to proceed on a remaining claim that Major League Baseball violated California law by interfering with San Jose’s contract with the A’s for a stadium site downtown.

The A’s originally made the proposal to move to San Jose in 2009. The San Francisco Giants, who control San Jose as part of the team’s formally granted operating territory, have blocked the move.

More coverage of the new developments from newballpark.org and CBS Sports, and on Twitter from lawyer-turned-sportswriter Wendy Thurm.

Meanwhile, the Oakland City Council is expected to approve a two-year extension to the A’s lease at the Coliseum on Tuesday, as early-stage planning continues on two stadium sites in Oakland, Coliseum City and Howard Terminal.

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