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Twins spared through 2003 in lawsuit settlement
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
June 6, 2002


The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission has approved a settlement with the Minnesota Twins and Major League Baseball that ensures the team will play the 2003 season. The settlement completes a seven-month legal battle between the commission and Major League Baseball which started when the league announced that it wanted to eliminate two teams. The Twins weren't named specifically but were considered a top candidate. Commission and league officials say this will help the Twins in their quest for a new ballpark. But one player says it's only one step in making sure baseball is played at all next season.

"This definitively removes the Twins from contraction for 2003," said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which agreed to drop its lawsuit against the team and baseball. Listen to a portion of a news conference with Lester and Kathryn Roberts, chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission's quest to keep the Twins in Minnesota ended successfully when the commissioners voted unanimously for the settlement. There was no public discussion. The board met behind closed doors for an hour and half as they discussed details with their attorneys.

Commission Chair Kathryn Roberts says the settlement requires the Twins to play the 2003 season in the Metrodome and frees the team and the community from Major League Baseball's contraction threats for next season.

"We're very proud of being successful with this action because the outcome is that Major League Baseball will stay," Roberts said. "Our intention is keep professional sports in Minnesota and to have baseball here not just for next year, but for the year after that and the year after that but for the next generation."

The commission agreed to drop its lawsuit with the team and league in exchange for the league's commitment through 2003.

Commission attorneys say they have reserved the right to sue the league if there are a plans to eliminate the Twins after the 2003 season.

The commission successfully sued Major League Baseball last fall to keep the Twins playing this season. Twins President Jerry Bell says he's pleased that a settlement has been reached. The settlement comes on the heels of a stadium financing package passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

He says the settlement clears up a mixed message being sent to potential voters who may have to consider if they want a stadium in their city.

"It eliminates a conflict. On the one hand you're suing to, perhaps, allow contraction, on the other hand you're trying to build a new ballpark. I think it sends a mixed message. So the best thing to do is to eliminate one and that being the lawsuit and focus 100 percent on the future which is trying to get a referendum passed," he said.

Dan McGrath says Progressive Minnesota will make the stadium an issue in the November election by pointing out which state lawmakers voted for and against the ballpark bill.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

Bell says he's planning on moving forward with plans to negotiate with cities to hold a referendum vote on a new ballpark. Bell said he wasn't prepared to make a commitment to any city at this time. St. Paul is a front-runner but Hennepin County officials have said that lawmakers should reconsider the bill when they return next session.

Counties can't bid on a stadium under the current legislation but officials argue the year delay gives them time to lobby the Legislature for changes.

Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, says it's possible lawmakers will take another look at the bill next session, but he doesn't expect to make many changes. He authored the Senate version of the bill and says the prospects look good that a stadium will be built in the near future.

"It's very much coming together and I think we can say that the Twins are going to be in Minnesota more definitely today than we have in the past," Johnson said.

While many officials are hopeful the Twins future looks bright, one Twins player says labor problems between the league and player's union could cloud the outlook.

Twins utility fielder Denny Hocking, the team's player representative, says he's happy about the settlement. However, he says the player's union and league are engaged in a nasty fight regarding the player's contract which expires at the end of this season. A strike or lockout could keep players off the field for at least part of the season.

"It's great to know that the Twins are off the contraction list and I never thought we were a part of it anyway. I never thought there was a realistic possibility that we would ever get contracted. To me it's great news but you know what until we get a basic agreement I'm not going to start bumping champagne glasses around," Hocking said.

Attorneys for both the commission and the Twins say they expect to submit the settlement to the Hennepin County judge soon. The judge is still considering a legal challenge by the Associated Press, the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press and KARE-TV to get access to thousands of the league's financial and contraction related documents. An attorney for the media outlets says they will continue to fight to make the documents public.