Q & A with Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff
Wolff discusses his club's dramatic playoff run and his future stadium plans
DETROIT -- Lew Wolff couldn't have predicted this to happen. The A's managing partner didn't figure on his club making the playoffs this season, a year after losing 88 games."I expected us to be competitive, but I couldn't have bet on this," Wolff told MLB.com on Saturday just before the A's lost Game 1 of their American League Division Series, 3-1, to the Tigers at Comerica Park. "If I was allowed to by baseball I would've put a wager on it. But I don't bet anyway, so..." Not only did the A's make the playoffs, but the team built by general manager Billy Beane defeated the Texas Rangers on the final day of the regular season, winning its 94th game and the AL West. It was the only day of the season the A's sat alone in first place. "It was hugely exciting," Wolff said about the 12-5 win. "We were down, 5-1, and nobody budged from their seats." Wolff, 76 and a real estate developer by trade, is also co-owner of the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer and is in the process of building a new facility to house that franchise. His group bought the A's in 2005. With the A's back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, Wolff talked about the season and the future of the organization in Oakland and their spring home in Phoenix during a lengthy exclusive interview. MLB.com: When did it become apparent to you that the club had a chance of making the playoffs this season? Wolff: You know, that's a good question. I'd like to say there was a turning point, but each game was so important and so many players came through in each game. And we had to win it on the last day of the season. It was an exceptional performance and a huge contribution from every guy each and every day. MLB.com: It must have been nice to draw some great crowds at the O.co Coliseum the last few weeks. What was it like to see the place filled with fans? Wolff: It was terrific. We only had one real sellout, but it was darn close and that was good. We had a lot of walk-ups for the Texas series. We always have a lot of walk-ups, which we appreciate a lot. MLB.com: Did you consider removing the tarp from the third deck in anticipation of big crowds for a possible three home playoff games this week beginning Tuesday night? Wolff: It's too late to do it for Tuesday and we have plenty of tickets left for Wednesday and Thursday if the games are played. If the fan interest was so large and pent up, which is not in evidence, those games would be all sold out by now. And while, I believe, games for all the other playoff teams are sold out, we have plenty of tickets available in case anyone is interested. MLB.com: You went through this in 2006 when the A's lost here to the Tigers in the AL Championship Series. You came into Detroit down 2-0 and wound up being swept in the series. Wolff: Yeah, that didn't turn out so well. MLB.com: So is this more exciting? Wolff: It's even a little warmer all of a sudden. But '06 was cold and really not the happiest of times. At least we got through the first round. We swept Minnesota, which was really exciting. Each level you go up there's a lot of excitement. And if you don't get past it, you have to start thinking about next year. MLB.com: You're talking about extending your current lease at the Coliseum? Wolff: Whether we move or not, we would like to get another few years on our lease there. We're working on it. We have one more season to go. MLB.com: How long do you want to extend it out? Wolff: Something that's comfortable for them. MLB.com: Even if you were able to move forward and build a stadium in San Jose or elsewhere, you wouldn't be able to do it in that period of time anyway? Wolff: It would take most of that time. MLB.com: How realistic is building a new stadium at this point? Wolff: I better not comment on that. But any stadium anywhere would take three or four years to pull together. Just the physical activity -- drawings, the permits. It would take at least that long. MLB.com: Is Oakland a dead issue? Wolff: We don't have any real options to build a new stadium there. MLB.com: What's happening in Mesa, Ariz.? You guys are working on moving your Spring Training facility there from Phoenix as soon as the Cubs vacate HoHoKam Park for their new complex in 2014. Wolff: We're looking at taking over remodeling the Cubs' old ballpark. We have a problem with continuing in Phoenix only because the cost to us and the city of re-doing Phoenix Municipal Stadium is beyond both parties' grasp. MLB.com: How far along are you on that? Wolff: We should know by the end of the year if we've worked out something everybody is comfortable with. These are very nice people, in fact, in both cities. We love where we're at in Phoenix, but it's a pretty old facility. It does require lots of capital, and neither side has the ability to provide that. It's not available in this business climate today. MLB.com: How much work needs to be done on the Mesa complex? Wolff: Actually, it would be somewhere in the $20 million bracket of which we'd share in some manner with Mesa. The practice facility would remain separate. That's the way we have it now. That's not a big issue. We'd like to have this all tied together with the opening of the new Cubs complex the year after next. I just looked at the construction of that facility and it's humongous. It's going to be really great. It's going to be terrific. MLB.com: Well, you're getting to the age where all of this needs to get going while you're still healthy enough to enjoy it. Wolff: I have good people around me so I'm not that concerned about passing the baton. On the stadium, my son, Keith, has been working on that for a long time. He's also doing the soccer stadium. MLB.com: Your soccer stadium in San Jose, that's on its way, isn't it? Wolff: On Oct. 21 we have a Guinness record-breaking, ground-breaking ceremony. They ordered 6,000 shovels from China. I think 4,000 people have already signed up for the ground breaking. MLB.com: Where is that site in comparison to where you want to put the ballpark? Wolff: We've got a great site. It's right near the airport in San Jose. MLB.com: And you have the new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers being built in nearby Santa Clara. Wolff: That's under construction. There's a lot going on. It's very exciting and very good for the future of all of the sports. MLB.com: I heard you went to your seats for one of the final home games at the Coliseum and found some people sitting in them. Wolff: I had forgotten that I had given those seats to a charity. So when I went to my seats there were four people there I didn't recognize. And then somebody reminded me I had auctioned them off or something. It was cute. It was a man and his kids, I think. MLB.com: So what did you do that day? Where did you spend the game? Wolff: My normal process is to sit the first two or three innings behind home plate, a little bit back. I just like to see both pitchers. Then I get nervous and I go sit in the stands someplace unobtrusively. I'll go in the clubhouse sometimes. [General manager] Billy [Beane] usually watches from the clubhouse. We don't bother each other during the game too much. So I had no problem roaming around. MLB.com: That last game must have been exciting. Wolff: It was hugely exciting. We were down, 5-1, and nobody budged from their seats. My little grandson sitting next to me said, "I think we'll get back one run at a time." It turned out even better than that. Arthur is 14, and he's a huge baseball fan. One of my partners leaned over and said to me, "Is this kid an encyclopedia of baseball, or what?" MLB.com: How far can this team go this year? Wolff: I only like to think of the daily, by the way. But I certainly feel that if we continue to have the kind of performance we've had, we can go pretty far.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.