And Lew Wolff Knows From Awful Owners
Lew Wolff fronts the ownership group that purchased the Oakland Athletics in 2005. In the time that he’s been running the show, the team has run up a mediocre 537-542 record—a deceptive performance since it’s fluffed up by two winning seasons from the tail-end of the A’s early-to-mid Aughties successes. In the last four seasons, Oakland has posted a losing record three times—the team lost as many times as it won in 2010—and it will surely add a fourth losing season this year after many predicted a playoff run for the A’s.
As uninspiring as things have been on the field for the A’s during the Wolff years, off-the-field activity has been downright depressing. Wolff’s primary impetus for buying the team was to move the A’s out of the aging, no-longer-fit-for-baseball Oakland Coliseum and into the sort of revenue-generating ballpark that has revived the fortunes of many a ballclub. He dropped a quixotic effort to build a fanciful “ballpark village” in an Alameda County suburb the first time a group of NIMBYs cleared their throats. Lately, he’s had his sights set on San Jose, pinning his hopes on a Major League Baseball “blue ribbon” commission that is now in its third year of trying to figure out where the A’s should play. In the meantime, Wolff has alternated between telling everyone what an awful experience it is to attend a baseball game in Oakland and then expressing disappointment that paying customers are taking him at his word. In spite of the lackluster attendance, the A’s continue to turn a profit, in part by keeping player payroll at comically low levels. There is a sense that if Major League Baseball were to bring back talk of contracting franchises, Lew Wolff would happily pocket the money and run while a club that gave the world Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rickey Henderson, and four Oakland-based titles gets swept into the dustbin of history. Wolff has denied that, of course, but the savvy fan has learned not to believe much of what comes out of his mouth. This is the owner, after all, who declared that sadsack manager Bob Geren was doing a “fantastic job” approximately two weeks before firing him.
That’s a roundabout way of saying that Lew Wolff is a terrible owner who is awful at every baseball-related thing he attempts to do. If you have someone as incompetently venal as Lew Wolff calling the shots for your favorite team, you have my deepest sympathies.
And yet, even Lew Wolff has found someone he can point the finger at and laugh:
“My hope is that the Dodgers will be sold to a party that will restart this great franchise, and that Frank [McCourt] and his family will benefit from a positive sale,” Wolff said. “But to try and equate or compare what Bud Selig has done with the administration of the current Dodger franchise is unsupportable.”
When Lew Wolff is mocking your ownership moxie, perhaps it is best to simply fake your own death and start a new life as a plumbing fixtures salesman in Pocatello, Idaho.
There is one disputable passage in Bill Shaikin’s otherwise sterling report on Wolff telling other people their business, and it’s this:
Wolff said he did not speak out as a way to curry favor with Selig, his fraternity brother at the University of Wisconsin, who has kept the A’s waiting more than two years for a decision on a proposed move to San Jose. Wolff said no one — including Selig — had asked him to speak out and said he had no interest in buying the Dodgers.
I take issue with any suggestion that Lew Wolff is taking a stand because he’s an unprincipled crony or a ruthless businessman looking to grease the skids for his own interests. That’s not at all the Lew Wolff I know, and I will not stand for that kind of talk.
The reason Lew Wolff is speaking out is because he’s a shameless suck-up. Let’s get our facts straight, please.
[Chilling image of history’s worst monsters by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty.]