Better team, not new stadium, key to success for A's Wolff

Better team, not new stadium, key to success for A's Wolff
January 29, 2012, 10:49 pm
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It doesnt matter whether Lew Wolffs experience at the As FanFest was good or bad, whether he was engaged or enraged by his interactions with the wave of curious or disillusioned customers.Talking with the people who give you money, or are thinking of doing so, is always its own reward. Frankly, he should have done this a long time ago. Even more frankly, he should have cajoled John Fisher, the As real owner, to do it too.But now that the As San Jose project is down to the bribery stage and he feels like its safe to come out, Wolff met both the new customers and the old ones as though he were starting over as a new owner. And he isnt. And neither is Fisher.

Fact is, the best goodwill the As could produce between now and ifwhen they finally agree on a price for the Giants grudging acquiescence -- or better yet, to tell the Giants to take a hike and build anyway is to stop reassembling the product every year, year after year. To build a team with staying power, and then challenge the Giants as equals rather than humble and humiliated neighbors.The example here, if youll pardon the stretch, is Manchester City and Manchester United, the two English soccer clubs. Man U is the perennial power, Man City the long-alluded-to noisy neighbors. Only this year, City is more than just noisy -- it is right in Uniteds grillwork, redefining the rivalry by fighting fire with fire.In short, by no longer tacitly accepting its role as the ones at the kids table.It is the only strategy that has ever worked for the As -- to be the finger in the eye of the Giants. And while the stadium helps the bottom line, at least for awhile, the only thing the As can do that will work is to start playing the game for real on the field.It means no longer mandating to general manager Billy Beane that minding a low payroll is the way to go, that constant turnover in search of the next great unknown prospect whose best-case scenario is to be traded in three years is an idiotic long-term plan.A plan so idiotic that it makes building the ballpark an idiotic idea in itself.The only reason to have a ballpark is not for the real estate. There are lots of more lucrative plans for real estate. You own a ballpark because you believe in the product, and the ballparks only product is the team.In short, Wolffs meeting with the fans Sunday lacked the one statement that would have truly made a difference -- the one in which he said, Enoughs enough. Were not finishing last any more. Were tired to trying to do more with less. Its time to start doing more with more.There is nothing noble about playing the destitute millionaire, and especially not in sport. The As either have the resources to make a long-term stand or they dont, and the we have to husband our resources argument has as its subtext, Were not fully committed to this thing.And even if Fisher and Wolff are indeed fully committed, they have a lousy way of showing it.Holding ones place in a two-team market means engaging the big dog, and making the big dog sweat for his share. Its what worked for the As in the early 80s, and the late 80s, and even the early and mid-2000s. All in or all out, no matter where you choose to make your stand.In fact, if the As get their San Jose dream, the first thing on the non-construction agenda ought to be to rub the Giants nose in it -- to be the truly noisy neighbors. Too many years of not making a peep have taken its toll, except of course in revenue sharing.Its time for the As to rejoin the fight on the field -- past time, in fact. The stadium will take care of itself; if it happens, start buying steel, and if it doesnt, make a stand or sell. But enoughs enough.And to Lew Wolff, thanks for visiting the folks. They appreciated it.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.