In an apparent attempt to pressure Major League Baseball to vote on allowing the Oakland A's to relocate, San Jose city officials filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging baseball's antitrust exemption.
MLB has been looking into the issue of allowing the A's to move into a new ballpark some 40 miles south of the O.co Coliseum since Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee to study the situation four years ago. One of the roadblocks to resolving the situation has been that the San Francisco Giants own the territorial rights to that area.
"It's time for someone to take on this supposed baseball exemption from antitrust laws," said attorney Phil Gregory of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, the law firm representing the city. "The City of San Jose is a perfect candidate to make that challenge."
MLB responded in a statement, saying that the suit is unfounded.
"In considering the issues related to the Oakland Athletics, Major League Baseball has acted in the best interests of our fans, our communities and the league," executive vice president for economics & league affairs Rob Manfred said. "The lawsuit is an unfounded attack on the fundamental structures of a professional sports league. It is regrettable that the city has resorted to litigation that has no basis in law or in fact."
A's managing partner Lewis Wolff disassociated himself from the legal maneuvering.
"I have no details. However, I am not in favor of legal action or legal threats to solve business issues," Wolff said in a statement.
This is a complex problem without an easy solution. The Giants have taken the position that AT&T Park, largely self-funded, was built on the belief that they would control the rights to the San Jose area. The A's, who ceded those rights to its Bay Area rival, say that they only did that when the Giants were pursuing a San Jose-area stadium of their own in the early 1990s.
Baseball has had only one team move since 1970, with the Montreal Expos becoming the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season. Removing the antitrust exemption would make it easier for teams to relocate, undermining franchise stability.
According to The Associated Press, MLB rejected a proposal earlier this year from San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to sit down and talk about the A's plans, and said Reed's reference to additional litigation at the time was "neither productive nor consistent with process that the Athletics have initiated under our rules."
The lawsuit came two days after a sewage problem at the aging Coliseum forced the A's and visiting Mariners to use the same clubhouse after Sunday's game. Pipes backed up, causing pools of water and a foul odor.
Wolff consistently has stated that he is focused on a new stadium in San Jose rather than a move outside the Bay Area. Approval from MLB would be required for a move anywhere outside the A's territory.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.