Conversation with longtime A's president Crowley
Bay Area native discusses Beane, club's economics, stadium situation
OAKLAND -- Mike Crowley is president of the Oakland A's. He's been in that position since Sandy Alderson left the organization for a key spot in the Commissioner's office in late 1998.
At 45, Crowley has a smooth, youthful face and a background in business administration. On the field at the O.co Coliseum as the A's opened their American League Division Series against the Tigers on Friday night, Crowley was buttoned down in a jacket and tie.
Meanwhile, Lew Wolff, the team's managing partner, was casually dressed in a lime-green pullover with an A's logo on it.
"He's the owner," Crowley told MLB.com with a laugh. "I couldn't get him to dress like this. The only time he puts on a coat and tie is for an owners' meeting."
No dress down Fridays for Crowley. Despite a delightful personality, Crowley is wedged between Wolff and general manager Billy Beane. They are dynamic personalities, as is manager Bob Melvin. Beane was played by Brad Pitt in the film depiction of the Michael Lewis book, "Moneyball." Crowley's character wasn't portrayed in the movie.
It doesn't faze him. Crowley is content to stay behind the scenes.
"I don't worry about those things," Crowley said. "I look at it as the ownership thanks me with my contract and [a paycheck] the 15th and the 30th of every month."
In an extensive interview, MLB.com learned more about Crowley and his take on the economics of the high-striving A's, not to mention the stadium situation.
MLB.com: I imagine this must be a lot of fun this year to be back in the playoffs for the second consecutive October.
Crowley: Oh, it is. Last year was exciting because expectations were so low. Expectations are a little higher this year. But to play the way we did throughout the season, clinch a little bit early and get home field, it's a lot of fun. And with 48,000-plus people in the stands, it's loud and hopefully we're giving them something to cheer about.
MLB.com: Last year there was a "glad to be here" feeling to the team in the playoffs. This year, they expect to win.
Crowley: That's true. And it was a quick turnaround last year, too. We won it on the last day and had a quick turnaround to get to Detroit and play. This year we were able to enjoy it a little bit more.
MLB.com: In all due respect, you must be one of the most unheralded executives in baseball.
Crowley: Oh, I don't know about that. The most important thing to me is how the team does and how the organization does as a whole. I'm proud of the organization and the people we have here. The key to anybody's success is surrounding yourself with good people and I've certainly done that with Billy and Bob and the VPs we have here at the A's.
MLB.com: So please tell people who might not know you where you came from what your background is.
Crowley: I grew up here in the [San Francisco] Bay Area. Other than a couple of stints in college, I've lived here my whole life. I love the Bay Area. I went to University of Notre Dame undergrad and started in public accounting in San Jose. I went into a family-owned business for about eight years and came here as the chief financial officer in 1997. I was fortunate enough to be hired by Sandy Alderson, who was president at the time. And when Sandy left to go to Major League Baseball, I think I was just in the right place at the right time. But it's been great. I love working here, I love the people here, I love the organization and I love the sport. There are worse places to spend a day at work than the ballpark.
MLB.com: So how did that all happen?
Crowley: Sandy was the president and general manager in 1997 when I was hired. Billy was promoted as GM at the beginning of '98 and I was promoted at the end of '98, just before Sandy left.
MLB.com: Sandy and Billy are some legendary baseball people that you worked with.
Crowley: Absolutely. Billy and I were pretty young, a lot younger than we are now. We grew up in the business together, working side by side. Obviously he's had tremendous success and the organization has as well.
MLB.com: When I talked to Lew a couple of weeks ago, he made a point of saying that it's not as if this organization doesn't have some money to spend, but you operate as a business with about half of your gross revenue dedicated to player payroll. How was the platform developed?
Crowley: The principles of business are the same across many different industries. We have a very different product than other people. We spend, and Billy spends on the player payroll, what he thinks is appropriate. And certainly, we're not looking to make a lot of money here, but certainly we don't want to lose money. I think that's just a prudent way to operate our business. I have a fiduciary responsibility, as Billy does, to our investors. Billy spends in areas that he thinks are wise and in some years like this when we think we have an opportunity to win, you go out and get an [Alberto] Callaspo at the Trade Deadline to make the team better. The philosophy comes out of traditional business, where you try to do the best with the resources you have and I think we've done a pretty good job of that here.
MLB.com: Where do the A's stand as far as gross revenue in Major League Baseball at this point?
Crowley: I'd say we're probably in the bottom third. And a lot of that is venue driven. The guys I have here have worked really hard to get the most out of what we have and I think they do a pretty good job. But when you're limited with some of the [ballpark] amenities you have to sell, it makes it a little bit tougher.
MLB.com: I don't think most people understand that in the last Basic Agreement, the top 10 markets are exempt from getting revenue sharing and the Bay Area is among those top 10 markets. The A's, for now, are not included in that exemption because of the stadium situation. This is finite, though, it won't go on forever.
Crowley: That's correct. You're exactly right the way you describe the Basic Agreement and we do receive revenue sharing until we get a new venue. Certainly that recognizes that the situation we're in right now is a little bit more difficult. When we do get a new venue in the Bay Area, those opportunities to generate revenue will be sufficient for what we lose in revenue sharing.
MLB.com: That exemption, which also applies to the Rays, actually has to be renegotiated when the current agreement expires in 2016.
Crowley: That's right. Everything gets renegotiated in collective bargaining. Certainly there's no guarantee that [exemption] will be there, but we're hoping that at some point in time we're no longer [revenue-sharing] recipients.
MLB.com: Is it safe to say that without a new ballpark or a continued inclusion in the revenue-sharing pool, the A's couldn't be this successful on the field?
Crowley: I think that's correct. That's the beauty of the revenue-sharing model. The way economics are in baseball -- as opposed to the NFL or some other model -- there are markets in this country where you're only going to generate, say, so much television money. It's all numbers driven. So in theory, the 10 biggest markets that you speak of have a real advantage. And though the revenue-sharing model hasn't really leveled the playing field, it certainly has closed the gap.
MLB.com: So Lew also said that you guys are trying to negotiate a five-year extension at the Coliseum with three additional option years. So you guys think it's going to be awhile before this stadium situation is settled?
Crowley: Right. With the Coliseum, we are attempting to do that with less than modest success at this point. Who knows where those negotiations are going to go? But given the circumstances in the state of California when you build anything, even if you got the approval to build today, going through the environmental process, going possibly through an election, going through working drawings and a 24-month build, we're probably looking at at least five years.
MLB.com: You know well enough since you grew up in the Bay Area that it took the Giants 20 years to fund, find a piece of land, and open AT&T Park. So you guys aren't even halfway through that process.
Crowley: [Laughing] I hope it's not 20 years. I won't be a very young man at that point, that for sure.
MLB.com: And Lew is 78.
Crowley: [More laughter] I know. He reminds me about that all the time.
MLB.com: So where do you think you are on that San Jose stadium process?
Crowley: It's where it's been all along. We're following the process as outlined by the Commissioner. So we'll see where that goes.