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Congress skeptical about baseball's direction
By Ronald Blum
Associated Press
December 6, 2001
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Baseball commissioner Bud Selig took his case for eliminating teams to Congress on Thursday and was greeted by skeptical committee members and hostile questions from Minnesota's governor.

Gov. Ventura, right, and baseball commissioner Bud Selig await the beginning of a congressional committee hearing considering stripping baseball of its anti-trust exemption. See larger image.
Bud Selig's testimony
Gov. Ventura's testimony
Jerry Bell's testimony
Committee members question Selig, Ventura


Gov. Ventura and Commissioner Selig sat side-by-side during the House Judiciary hearing, but found little to agree on. In his opening remarks, Selig outlined the case for contraction, saying the league lost a combined $520 million last year. But that didn't persuade the governor. Ventura says given the state's recently projected $2 billion dollar deficit, he would have a hard time supporting a publicly-subsidized ballpark, even if it did boost the Twins' income and save them from elimination.

"I'm less excited. I guarantee you I'm not going to use my public money. Especially in light of the fact that our deficit far surpasses Major League Baseball's deficit. They want to talk about big numbers, our numbers are way bigger than theirs. And ours aren't subject to, you know, not revealing them all," Ventura said.

Ventura - and several members of the committee - expressed doubts about Selig's numbers and complained loudly that he wasn't revealing the full picture. During a brief exchange, Ventura questioned why team owners didn't write off their loses at tax time.

"Governor, I'd have to say to you if you want to have a tax loss and lose $50 or $60 million, I think there are better ways to create a tax loss than that than having a $60 million loss," Selig said.

Some congressmen appeared dumbfounded by Selig's vague answers to some questions. ;Listen to some of the exchange between committee members and Selig.

"That's why I have a hard time believing it, Mr. Selig, that they're losing that kind of money and still paying the salaries they're paying," Ventura replied. "It's asinine. These people did not get the wealth they have being stupid."

Twins President Jerry Bell also appeared before the committee and outlined the difficulties facing the team. Although the Twins were one of the few teams to show an operating profit last year, Bell argued the team simply could not perform in the long run without a new, revenue-enhancing ballpark.

"The Minnesota Twins and I do not enjoy the position we are in and neither do our fans. We have not enjoyed our position for the past 10 years now, and it is getting no better. We have tried to meet the challenge locally as most other clubs and communities have in the past decade, but we have been unsuccessful," Bell said.

It's not clear a new ballpark would improve matters. Although a tripartisan state task force is currently exploring funding options for a new Twins stadium, Selig refused to say whether their work could take the team off the chopping block.

"There's no sense in getting into 'ifs' because there is no stadium proposal up there now. And they've had 26 stadium proposals; the owner offered to pay 83 percent and I meant what I said to one of the - I spent more time in Minnesota than I did anywhere else, including Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and a whole bunch of other places," Selig said.

Supporters of repealing the league's antitrust protections argue doing so would curtail baseball's power to shut down or determine the location of teams. They say it would also dampen the league's leverage when seeking public support for new ballparks. But they face an uphill battle from some lawmakers who worry tampering with the current system could disrupt the minor leagues and could prompt a flurry of teams changing cities.

Minnesota Congressman Gil Gutknecht, however, warned Selig that Congress can strike at more than baseball's antitrust status. he vowed to press the inquiry into, for example, baseball's tax benefits, if the league moved forward with contraction.

"You can hold people hostage and you can get things from them that you might not otherwise get. That will only work so long. Pretty soon we're going to start to bite back. And when we do it's going to cost you and a lot of the Major League owners more than you think. So you can go ahead with this, but I will submit to you there will be a very heavy price," Gutknecht said.

The antitrust action next moves to the Senate. DFLer Paul Wellstone is supporting identical legislation in that body, and he's announced hearings will be held early next year.

More Information
  • Major League Baseball
  • Ending baseball's antitrust exemption: What would it mean? Baseball Prospectus
  • Federal Club v. National League This page contains the text of the 1922 U.S. Supreme Court decision creating the antitrust exemption for professional baseball.
  • Flood v. Kuhn This page contains the text of the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision that argued that the Federal Club decision was erroneous, but chose to not reverse this decision. The rationale for this decision was that baseball had been exempt for 50 years and Congress had failed to take positive action to include baseball under the antitrust laws. It was decided that Congress is responsible for deciding whether to end the antitrust exemption for baseball.