Dave Kaval hasn’t made a peep since the A’s made an agreement to relocate to Las Vegas in April. But when an old foe, Schnitzer Steel, went up in flames on Wednesday night, the A’s team president lit up his social media feed with a flurry of posts using Schnitzer’s moment to deflect some blame off his organization and owner John Fisher.
For Kaval, the Schnitzer fire sparked an opportunity to blame the City of Oakland for not backing the team’s counter-lawsuits against Schnitzer — which filed lawsuits against the A’s during their Howard Terminal proceedings. He also said the city failed to hold up its end of the now-dead Howard Terminal project.
He sides with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s statement that the A’s and Oakland never had a ballpark deal in place, a claim that prompted Oakland mayor Sheng Thao to travel to the All-Star Game in Seattle and hand-deliver documents to the contrary — that Oakland and the A’s were only a few hurdles away from a binding economic deal. Kaval said Thao’s claim was false, saying a Howard Terminal ballpark opening wouldn’t have been feasible until the 2030s even with a binding agreement.
“The city was never able to come up with the funding to honor that agreement. Period. The city council passed the (non-binding) agreement in 2021,” he said in a phone conversation with this news organization. “They were never able to honor that commitment. On top of that, we had all these opponents, with Schnitzer pushing everything out into the next decade.”
Through a spokesperson, Mayor Thao responded to the claim, saying that Schnitzer was “not a deal point in the negotiations. Period.” And that their backing wouldn’t have helped move things along:
“The City’s participation would not have improved the A’s chances in the litigation, and certainly had nothing to do with the fire at the facility. To suggest otherwise is misleading and irresponsible.”
The A’s and Oakland have been playing the blame game for decades on the new ballpark front. But amid this finger-pointing crossfire that’s become the norm came answers for why the A’s bolted so suddenly, abandoning loyal fans and one of the biggest media markets in the country.
Revenue-sharing checks from MLB would be cut off if the A’s had not entered into a binding agreement to open a new ballpark, in Oakland or another city, by Jan. 15, 2024.
“The revenue share was an important financial contribution to fielding a product on the field,” Kaval said, citing the team’s success over the years on a shoestring budget. “So yes, it was a material factor in terms of the deadline.”
The drama begs more questions, too. If the A’s must choose between revenue sharing and staying in Oakland, did Fisher ever consider selling the team to a new owner who could handle the turbulent world of development in the Bay Area? Kaval points to the Golden State Warriors and Oakland Raiders’ departures as indications that there’s no hope to build in Oakland, even going so far as saying that the A’s new ballpark plans — from Laney to Howard Terminal — were practically dead on arrival.
“We were the only one of the three teams that tried to stay. And maybe that made it worse,” he said. “It’s all about hope. People got excited it could happen. We got excited it could happen. It’s sad that it didn’t work out but we had to make a decision that we can no longer go sideways. Frankly, this should have ended 10 years ago. It’s incredible it lasted this long.”
Kaval took his Howard Terminal remorse a step further. Asked why the A’s didn’t get full political backing and blessings from new neighbors, such as Schnitzer, before digging into ballpark plans, Kaval said it’s “hard to know in hindsight” and said the location wasn’t the organization’s first choice.
“That was the Mayor (Libby Schaaf) preferred sight,” he said. “Our preferred site was Laney (Peralta site) originally. We thought the infrastructure costs there were lower and that we faced less opposition, but we didn’t have political support at the time for Laney. So we pivoted to the Howard site, which we knew had some challenges but we knew had upside because it was on the water. By the same token, a lot of the California laws were tweaked against us to make it very difficult to proceed. It was a strategy of delay with our opponents that was successful.”
Notably, Kaval couldn’t get political support for a bid to build at Laney that was shut down by the Peralta board in 2017. Thao’s office rebutted that statement that Howard Terminal was the city’s choice only.
“The A’s ownership group had selected the Howard Terminal site and insisted on a massive, multi billion dollar project that included substantial residential, commercial and retail space as well as a ballpark,” a spokersperson said. “The conditions and length of the project timeline were entirely dependent on those two decisions made by the ownership group, including Dave Kaval.”
Asked why the A’s didn’t consider building at the Coliseum site when Howard Terminal failed, Kaval repeated previous assertions that the Coliseum site “was never viable for baseball” as long as they shared the market with the San Francisco Giants.
“We’re competing against the Giants. We need a ballpark that’s comparable to Oracle Park,” he said. “You’re competing for fans, so you need a ballpark thats commensurate.”
Staff writer Shomik Mukherjee contributed to this report.
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