Lew Wolff, John Fisher: Baseball’s Oakland slum lords

The Oakland A’s have always played second fiddle to the San Francisco Giants in the Bay Area baseball market, but they’ve come to resemble the neglected step child since the Haas family sold the team in 2005 to a group headed by Lew Wolff and John Fisher.


Why is Billy Bean laughing?

Wolff, who manages the team’s day-to-day operations, made a fortune in real estate and Fisher’s parents founded The Gap, but you wouldn’t know they’re rich guys from the way they run the team out of the dilapidated Oakland Coliseum, also known as O.co Coliseum.

The A’s cobble together a roster of young players developed in their farm system, bargain basement discards from other teams, and low value free agents that are just competitive enough to draw about 1.5 million fans a year–half what the Giants draw across the bay. Long-time general manager and now team president Billy (“Money Ball”) Bean has a reputation for using sophisticated metric that uncover hidden gems, but the basic metric the team employs is low-cost.

Players who perform well enough to command large raises and long-term contracts have to ring the register in another city, as we saw once again at this year’s trading deadline. Pitcher Rich Hill was signed to a one-year free agent deal when the Boston Red Sox let him go. Hill was by far the A’s ace in the first half of the season and wanted to be rewarded with a two-year contract worth $28 million. That’s why he was traded to the Dodgers.

Outfielder Josh Reddick, their most dynamic and popular player the last few years, wanted a four-year contract extension beyond this season. He was traded, as was outfielder Billy Burns, the team’s best rookie last year. He was due a big raise next year.

That leaves outfielder Coco Crisp, a seven-year vet of the team whose the only current member of the roster who has played in an A’s playoff game. He has an option for $13 million next season, which will vest if he plays at least 130 games this year. Guess who’s been riding the bench and is on track to play less than 130 games this season?

At $52 million, the team’s payroll for its current roster is one-third of what the Giants are paying ($156  million this year) and ranks 27th among the 30 teams in major league baseball. (The average this season is $131 million.)

By contrast, the Giants made moves at the trading deadline to improve the team. San Francisco hasn’t played well since the All-Star break, but at least it is trying. Oakland’s owners are just trying to squeeze every buck they can out of the fans.

NEW HOME: Since the current ownership group bought the team in 2005, the A’s have been lobbying for a new stadium. Perhaps taking a cue from how San Francisco handled the Giants’ quest for a new ball park, Oakland and Alameda County have made it clear they won’t pay for a new stadium.

The A’s have been seeking a deal for a new stadium elsewhere in the south Bay Area, particularly Santa Clara–the city has indicated an interest in working with the team on a new facility. But the Giants are claiming Santa Clara as part of its marketing territory, and is threatening legal action if the team tries to move there. The city isn’t interested in a suit and MLB has done nothing to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, there’s a solution to the A’s dilemma just 90 miles to the east–Sacramento. The River City is eager to be considered big time and believes professional sports will give it that cachet. The city put up half the money to build a new arena for the Sacramento Kings and is seriously considering raising over $100 million to secure a MLS franchise.

The A’s would be a good fit for a lot of reasons. The city’s AAA team, the River Cats, is always among the minor league attendance leaders in the country, and the A’s would essentially have the Central Valley and Northern California (as The Sacramento Bee likes to define it) to themselves. Why the owners aren’t considering such a move is beyond me.

Posted in Oakland A's, Sports, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The NU game plan: Dazzle ’em if you can’t beat ’em

Field Shot

Will a new scoreboard really make a difference at Hooper Stadium?

Nevada Union and Bear River high schools will sort of kick-off the 2016 football season Saturday when they participate in a four-team scrimmage at El Camino High School in Sacramento. Fortunately for the Miners, nobody will be keeping score.

As those of you who follow these things know, the former Grass Valley powerhouse has not done well the last six seasons. Dave Humphers closed out his long tenure as head coach by playing .500 ball his last three seasons, and things have gone downhill since he was replaced by Dennis Houlihan.

The Miners have posted a 4-26 record in three years under Houlihan, and have not won a game in the Sierra Foothill League (0-17). The team was 1-9 last season, and with a strong non-league schedule this year, may be hard pressed to improve on that.

But the athletic masterminds at NU have a plan: Escape from the SFL and build a state-of-the-art scoreboard that could cost over $230,000. (Yes, $230,000.)

While the school’s enrollment has been sinking almost as fast the fortunes of its football team, they still have too many students to wiggle out of the SFL and find a league where they can be competitive. (The school’s other major boys teams haven’t done well either.)

In an effort to “shrink” NU’s enrollment, the athletic department wants to bar students from Ghidotti Early College High School from participating in varsity sports at the school. There was a report in The Union (which hasn’t been denied by school officials) that junior high school students with athletic potential are being discouraged from enrolling at Ghidotti–so much for putting education first!

The plan is to make Ghidotti students ineligible to play sports at NU by the fall of 2018, at which point NU will presumably have a low enough enrollment to escape the ultra-competitive SFL. (Long-time observers will remember that NU “added” the Ghidotti students to their athletic program so they would have enough students to get into the SFL. Aw, irony.)

Meanwhile, the boosters want to dazzle the diminishing crowds with a new scoreboard, reportedly costing in the neighborhood of $234,000. Apparently this will be an accessory to the $400,000 field that was installed several years ago to replace the muddy old dirt pile of yesterday. The field has only succeeded in making it easier for visiting teams to navigate the 100 yards between goal lines.

Apparently the goal is to dazzle ’em until NU can find a league that will return it to its storied days of yesteryear.

ANOTHER WAY: There is a simpler way to reduce Nevada Union’s enrollment so that it can find a more competitive league–redraw attendance boundary lines. NU has about 1,600 students while Bear River has about 700. Move the boundary lines so they have about 1,150 students each and you solve the problem.

The district could make better use of Bear River’s underutilized facilities, and NU could shed its reputation for being a big school where kids get lost. But some NU diehards would object to sending their children to Bear River–buildings are more important than smaller classes in their calculus–and the Miners would lose their excuse for not playing the Bruins in football.

Just a thought.

Posted in Sports, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Is the campaign just another money-making venture for Trump?

Thanks to a “fantastic” fund-raising effort in June and July, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has raised $132 million, according to his campaign manager, Paul “The Bagman” Manafort.

donald trump

Where’s the money, Donnie?

As with everything else that comes out of the campaign, we’ll require some verification before we believe it–that will come when the campaign has to file an updated finance report by Labor Day. But let’s assume they’ve raised the money: What are they doing with it?

It’s hard to tell. Trump has practically no ground operations in two states he needs to win–Ohio and Florida–and another key state he thinks he can flip, Pennsylvania. There’s no evidence he’s reserved TV time in the crucial month of October to run political ads. And while Hillary has spent a lot of money to advertise during the Olympic coverage, Trump is nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, Trump hasn’t filed paperwork required to forgive the $50 million personal loan he made to the campaign,  as he promised to do in June. He travels everywhere is his personal jet and holds as many campaign-related events at Trump properties as he can. The cost for all of this is billed to his campaign. Then there are various family members involved in the campaign; I wonder what kind of salaries they’re drawing?

Until we see some evidence to the contrary, I’m inclined to believe The Donald views the campaign fund as his personal piggy bank. Maybe that’s what he had in mind when he said last week that he’ll enjoy a long, lovely vacation if he loses the election.

Posted in Donald Trump, Politics, Republican Party, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Some people don’t know a good story idea when they hear one

We attended the Nevada County Fair on opening night, the first time we’ve been in a couple of years. I don’t find it particularly exciting (it doesn’t seem to change much), but my wife likes to check out the farm animals and we were accompanied this year by our niece and her two young children.


But is it healthy?

As we walked down Treat Street looking for something reasonable to eat for dinner, I recalled an experience I had when I was assistant city editor of The Union and John Seelmeyer was the paper’s editor.

John, who is now retired, was a sharp guy, an excellent journalist, and a good boss to work for. The only major disagreement we ever had was when I turned down his offer to become the paper’s city editor. (If I’d taken the job I might have eventually been promoted to editor, then Jeff Ackerman could have cut me loose instead of Podunk Pelline!)

As the start of the county fair approached one year, Seelmeyer sent a memo to all of the troops soliciting ideas for fair stories. He thought we were doing the same stories year after year and wanted to see something different.

Always willing to do my bit, I replied with the suggestion that we recruit a nutritionist to take a stroll down Treat Street and provide a running commentary on the food being sold. I pointed out that at least talking about healthy eating was becoming trendy and that we could provide a public service to The Union’s readers by steering them toward the healthier fare being offered at the fair.

For some reason, John never replied to my suggestion. It just goes to show you: Even the best editors don’t always recognize a good story.

Posted in Media, The Union newspaper, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

‘The facts’ and hypocrisy are not problems for ‘Podunk’ Pelline

Jeff “Podunk” Pelline never tires of reminding the local yokels that he’s a former big time newspaper guy. Too bad he still doesn’t have editors who make sure what he writes is truthful and accurate.

Those two elements of good journalism are lacking when he uses his blog, Sierra Foothills Report, to education Nevada County’s bumpkins on why they should abandon their ways and implement his progressive ideas.

He provides these lectures when he isn’t find faulting with The Union newspaper, tooting his own horn, promoting his magazine, or giving free plugs to advertisers in his magazine (Trattoria Milano has finally decided to buy an ad). His writing tends to be what a former boss of mine called a “workman-like effort,” what you would expect from a promising student in an Introduction to News Writing class.

Pelline has no use for dissenting opinions, and is quick to pull the rug out from under anybody who sharply disagrees with his opinion of the day. (Full disclosure: I quit commenting on his blog when he routinely rejected any comment I made. The final straw came when he complained about something and I replied: “Would you like some whine with those sour grapes?”)

He also has no use for what I call intellectual honesty–a fair representation of what he’s about the criticize. Pelline generally creates a highly selective summary of an article or comment he doesn’t like in a manner designed to make the author look stupid or ignorant, then proceeds to criticize what he summarized.

He banks on the fact that most readers are too lazy to seek out the original material, and comments from his regulars suggest he knows his readers. An excellent example of what I’m talking about can be found now near the top of his blog, a picture of Melanie Trump’s “assets” you’ll also find here by scrolling down to the next post.

Note that one key element is missing from Pelline’s representation: My headline over the front page of the New York Post that reads, “Is this what social conservatives, evangelicals signed up for?” Pelline edited it out because it didn’t create the impression he wanted to leave with his readers.

This is part of his continuing criticism of one of my posts that can be found by scrolling down, “YubaNet: All the news that fits…its political agenda.” Pelline has proclaimed his support of YubaNet and took offense at my criticism of this community resource. The assault started with a comment entitled “Union columnist Boardman’s uncalled for attack on YubaNet.”

“YubaNet mostly republishes press releases…”–Jeff Pelline, blogging on Feb. 28, 2009

In his summation of what I wrote, Pelline wrote that “Boardman claims that YubaNet is ‘smoke and mirrors’ when it comes to being a genuine news source. The real issue is that Boardman can’t stand that YubaNet won’t agree with own views, so he belittles them.”

Pelline didn’t bother to quote the paragraph that followed the “smoke and mirrors” comment, which reads:

“What passes for news at the web site is basically press releases and opinion pieces picked up from other sources.” (I’m late to the party, because here’s what Pelline wrote in 2009: “YubaNet mostly republishes press releases…”)

“And as we saw earlier this week, the news it runs is heavily influenced by the political leanings of its owners.”

That led to the reason I wrote the post: A “news story” announcing the Nevada City Council called a special meeting to express support for police agencies, but didn’t explain the meeting was called to counter criticism generated by Council member Reinette Senum’s incendiary remarks that essentially called police paid assassins. Clearly, YubaNet was protecting Senum.

Podunk didn’t bother to mention any of that in his summary of what I wrote. As for Pelline’s claim that I disagreed with YubaNet’s views so I belittle them, here’s how I ended the post:

“I have no problem with YubaNet taking any position it wants. But if it’s going to let its political bias infect its news coverage, it should at least publish a disclaimer at the top of its ‘news’ section.” Pelline must have confused my post with something else because his summary bears no relation to reality.

He continued his criticism on July 26, when he had a chance to take a shot at both me and The Union with “Wise up Boardman! YubaNet scoops The Union and NCTV on big Supes vote.”

Pelline was referring to the Board of Supervisors’ passage of a temporary medical marijuana growing ordinance. YubaNet “scooped” The Union by announcing the action at 7:07 p.m., one minute before the paper did. (Personally, I was doing something more interesting by then, but I won’t dismiss the possibility that some people wanted the news one minute before they could get it from The Union.)

People who were monitoring the proceedings earlier witnessed a classic example of how Pelline operates. The Union reported that six marijuana plants would be allowed on 2-5 acres in certain areas, while YubaNet reported 3-5 acres. Pelline immediately jumped on this, implying The Union was wrong and YubaNet was right.

Then YubaNet (to its credit) admitted it was wrong. Faster than you can say “Podunk Pelline,” his criticism of The Union disappeared. (You didn’t expect him to give the paper credit for getting it right, did you?)

“I’ve advocated (paywalls) for a long time, for papers ranging from The Chronicle to The Union.”–Jeff Pelline, blogging Feb. 28, 2009.

This is a continuation of Pelline’s criticism of the paper, something that started almost eight years ago when he was let go as editor of The Union–some people apparently can never let go. He mixes occasional legitimate criticism with an endless stream of cheap shots. Pelline will even contradict himself when it suits his purpose.

Regular readers of Pelline’s blog know he routinely criticizes the paper for erecting a paywall around the online version of The Union. But that wasn’t his position in 2009 when he had this to say about paywalls:

“I’ve advocated this for a long time, for papers ranging from The Chronicle to The Union. In a small market such as ours, it’s a ‘no brainer’ to charge for some local content, because it is more ‘unique’ and less ‘commodity’ news.”

YubaNet republishes press releases. Paywalls are a no brainer. I call those good examples of hypocrisy.





Posted in Jeff Pelline, Media, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Is this what social conservatives, evangelicals signed up for?


Melania Trump displaying her assets in a men’s magazine

Social conservatives and evangelical Christians are captives of the Republican Party, primarily because the Democrats are unwilling to bend on the issues that are important to this constituency.

They’re four-square for traditional marriage–you know, Dick and Jane instead of Dick and John–want to infuse public institutions with as much religion as they can get away with, and are dead set against abortion.  They’re also big supporters of charter schools, where their children can be safe from evolution and sex education.

These positions get them a cold shoulder from Democrats and a sympathetic hearing from Republicans, who let them have their way with the party platform and then do little about the social issues that concern conservatives the rest of the time.

So values voters and fundamentalist Christians have two basic choices this election year–sit out the election or support Donald Trump. The idea that Hillary Clinton–a supporter of the right to an abortion and (just as bad) Planned Parenthood– might actually become president has made the choice for them.

Although many social values leaders are reluctant to do so, they have signed-up with Trump, willing to look past his three marriages, his admitted adultery, his irreverence in referring to Holy Communion as “having my little cracker,” and his inability to ask God for forgiveness, which he said he has never done.

A survey taken by The Wall Street Journal suggests this decision might not be as radical as it might appear to the casual observer. According to the survey, only 38 per cent of fundamentalist who support Trump attend church regularly, compared to 56 percent of  social conservatives and 43 percent of the Republican establishment.

Trump’s supporters also divorce at a higher rate than Godless atheists, have higher incidences of premarital sex and sexually transmitted diseases, and are more likely to be involved in domestic violence.

They apparently have more in common with The Donald than we thought.

SELLING PAPERS: When critics of newspaper think they are sensationalizing the news, they sneer at such efforts as “just trying to sell papers.” That charge certainly applies to Rupert Murdoch, who never lets his political views get in the way of making a dollar.

Murdoch, the creator of Fox News who is never bashful about expressing his conservative views, also owns the New York Post, whose Sunday front page is featured above. Murdoch’s operatives managed to get a hold of decades-old pictures of Melanie Trump displaying her assets and could have easily buried them–after all, his guy Trump has enough problems as it is. But there are papers to be sold and money to be made.






Posted in Donald Trump, Media, Politics, Republican Party, Uncategorized | Tagged | 8 Comments

Trump doesn’t understand that what he says has consequences


donald trump

Another brain-dead comment

Donald Trump’s latest brain-dead comment inviting Russia to commit espionage in America and meddle in domestic politics once again illustrates Trump’s inability to understand his statements have consequences.

Trump said he was being sarcastic, but if the remark was tongue-in-cheek, it failed as political humor. Even his running mate, Mike Pence, tried to walk back the comment shortly after it was made, and House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned the statement.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest critics in Congress, was not amused. “I think he was absolutely wrong and out of line,” he said. “I would never had said it that way, and I think it was ill-advised.”

However, Fox News, which apparently didn’t get the joke either, was quick to defend Trump’s statement. (I’ll bet that doesn’t surprise you.)

Trump seems to think this is a game, no different from negotiating with another greedy real estate developer where both sides assume the other guy is exaggerating or lying. But now that he’s one of two people who will be the next president of the United States, what he says has consequences and impact far beyond the presidential campaign.

I can’t wait to hear Trump run his big mouth after he gets his national security briefing.

Posted in Donald Trump, Politics, Public Policy, Republican Party, Uncategorized | Leave a comment