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Baseball owners approve contraction
By Bob Collins
Minnesota Public Radio
November 7, 2001

Bud Selig
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig talks to reporters after baseball owners "overwhelmingly approved" contraction, thus eliminating two teams. Listen to the entire news conference.

Major League Baseball owners, searching to get control of an economic system that threatens to ruin the sport, decided Tuesday to eliminate two teams, but stopped short of selecting which two.

It's believed the Minnesota Twins are among the franchises that may be targeted for extinction.

"There are more than two candidates," said Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. "The teams were judged to be not capable of generating enough revenue to be a productive franchise."

The faces of some Twins officials also made it difficult to determine if the Twins were on the chopping block.

After an eight hour closed door session, Twins owner Carl Pohlad, his son Jim and Twins President Jerry Bell faced a pack of reporters wanting to know if the Twins were finished as a baseball team. Neither Pohlads had a comment and Bell didn't say much more. "The only thing we can say is that the teams overwhelmingly voted to continue the process of contraction and the commissioner will announce which teams in the future," Bell said.

After reporters continued to pepper Bell with questions regarding the meeting and the future of the team, Bell replied that the meeting was not a pleasant process.

"It makes no sense for major league baseball to be in markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise," Selig said. "The teams to be contracted have a long record of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable major league franchise.

Shortly after Selig's announcement, a Hennepin County distict court judge issued a temporary restraining order to force the Twins to play in the Metrodome next year. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, requested the order.A hearing on the restraining order has been scheduled for Thursday.

The commission says eliminating the Minnesota Twins before the end of the 2002 season violates the team's lease agreement. Commission Executive Director Bill Lester says neither building a ballpark or eliminating teams will solve the league's problems.

"A ballpark in and of itself is not a panacea; it will allow you to raise the payroll somewhat. But it will not in and of itself cure the ills that plague baseball. Nor will contraction. It does nothing to reduce the competitive imbalance that exists between the haves and the have nots. If the aim was to actually cure that imbalance they should contract the Yankees," Lester said.

Although the Twins are said to be among the "finalists," the team's attendance was not among the five lowest of all baseball franchises. The Montreal Expos are considered to be the most financially unhealthy franchise. But two teams in Florida have also been flops at the box office.

Bill Lester
•"There is no buyout, there is no escape clause," said Bill Lester, executive director of the commission. "We will fight (a breaking of the lease) to the extent of our authority." Read more.

•Gary Gillette, baseball author, talks with MPR's Lorna Benson. Listen.

(MPR Photo/Kaomi Goetz)

Minnesota and Florida have failed to generate government support for new ballparks, and Twins owner Carl Pohlad has pushed Selig to eliminate his team in exchange for a large contraction payment, according to other owners, who spoke on condition they would not be identified.

Outfielder Dan Gladden, a member of the Twins' 1991 championship team and currently a broadcaster for the team, predicted Minnesota will remain in the major leagues. "Without a doubt, they'll play," he said. "I don't think we're any closer to contracting than when the day started."

Not everyone thinks there's much mystery in Selig's announcement. "We pretty much know the two teams to be contracted are Montreal and Minnesota," said longtime baseball analyst Peter Gammons. "They'd (Major League Baseball) love to get rid of franchises in Tampa Bay and Miami, but the attorney general in Florida has threatened legal action." In Minnesota, however, Attorney General Mike Hatch has also threatened to challenge baseball's anti-trust exemption if it tries to eliminate the Twins franchise.

"It makes no sense for major league baseball to be in markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise."

- Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball

Moving the Twins to another city does not appear to be an option. "When you shift teams," he said, "you also shift problems," Selig said. He said Major League Baseball may consider moving other franchises later.

"I'm not going to get into the numbers game," he said. "There were a lot of people in the game who were in favor of four-team contraction."

Some Twins chose to view the lack of specifics with optimism. "We're no closer to the end of the line than we were five hours ago," said Twins firstbaseman Doug Mientkiewicz.

While the owners and players debate over the merits of contraction, a couple of Twins fans said they were disappointed with the news. David Hoch from Arden Hills and Joe Marble from Hopkins, went to the owners' meeting to show support for their team. They say they believe the Twins might be done as a franchise after they heard the news. Hoch says it's a sad day for baseball, not only in Minnesota but throughout the country. "Baseball is America's pasttime. Having grown up with the Twins, to lose them. I don't think the state can recover from that."

Hoch says he doesn't think the state or private sector could do much to save the Twins if the team is selected for contraction.

Owners also announced they will not lock out players or freeze player signings when the sport's collective bargaining agreement expires Wednesday.

Baseball has undergone eight work stoppages since 1972,including a 232-day strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series, and some owners are pressing for concessions from the players' association, which could trigger another stoppage. The union could become an obstacle to eliminating teams before the start of next season in an effort to protect the 80 major league roster spots on the two teams and the hundreds more in each minor league system.

Owners admitted they must negotiate the specifics of how to disperse the players on each eliminated team to the remaining 30 major leagues clubs. Selig wouldn't say if there was a chance the elimination of teams couldn't be accomplished by the start of the 2002 season.

"We have every intention of doing it," he said.

MPR reporters Tom Scheck and Kaomi Goetz and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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