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SBD/Issue 38/Leagues & Governing Bodies
Contraction: Twins, Expos May Be Out As Owners Meet Tomorrow
Published November 5, 2001
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has informed MLB team owners that the meeting planned for tomorrow in Chicago will begin at 1:00pm CT and end at 4:00pm, according to Bill Madden of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS who wrote three hours "would seem hardly enough time to discuss and reach agreement on an issue as complex as contraction." Sources said that Selig will likely "inform the owners just how much contraction will cost them." Estimates place those costs at $150-200M per team contracted. Sources added a vote could be taken tomorrow to "move forward" on a plan to contract the Expos and Twins (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/4).
RESISTANCE: In DC, Mark Asher noted contraction is "likely to be met with opposition from lawmakers, community activists and fans who believe their team will be unfairly dismissed." St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman: "I would hope you would see some action in Congress" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/3). But U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (D-MN) said that there is "little that a U.S. senator can do now to help" the Twins. Dayton: "There's a war going on that we're dealing with here, as well as an economic stimulus package, and there's not going to be time on the Senate calendar, or the House, with issues relating to baseball. What the team needs is a new ballpark, if they're going to stay in Minnesota. And it may be too late for that, without the political will to do that. Washington is not the place to look." MN Gov. Jesse Ventura said that he "wouldn't consider supporting a new ballpark" until MLB begins "reining in soaring player salaries." Ventura: "I want to see baseball change its managerial structure and ... economic structure before I would entertain any thought of a new stadium" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 11/3). In MN, Charley Walters: "There is talk that lawyers representing the owners have become concerned contraction might jeopardize the owners' ability to obtain a favorable labor agreement with the players association. Those lawyers fear contraction could provide leverage for players in a new deal." Walters added, despite the possibility of contraction, the Twins are spending $250,000 on refurbishing Metrotome offices (PIONEER PRESS, 11/4).
TWINS: MN state House Speaker Steve Sviggum and MN Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe Friday sent a letter to Selig and Twins Owner Carl Pohlad asking for a delay in any contraction vote "until a legislative task force studies possible stadium options." But the legislators added that consideration of a new stadium "would take time and shouldn't come ahead of other pressing problems" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/3). Also in Minneapolis, Sid Hartman reported an "unconfirmed report" Saturday stated that Pohlad "might ask [MLB] to give Minnesota a two-year period to approve a stadium, and if that doesn't happen, contraction might go through." Meanwhile, Hartman wrote to Pohlad, "Your life and your family's life will be miserable if you are responsible for killing major league baseball in Minnesota. Reconsider. I know your friend Mr. Selig will let you off the hook" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/4). But also in MN, Jim Souhan wrote, "People with knowledge of Pohlad say he believes efforts to gain a new stadium are doomed, he's fearful of paying an ever-rising payroll simply to keep his current team together, and he's not sure he wants the team to be a future burden to his family" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/4). A ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS editorial stated, "Pohlad doesn't really deserve the blame he's getting. ... It still seems likely that the contraction threat is, for now at least, just a threat" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 11/4). A Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE editorial stated if Pohlad agrees to contract the Twins, "his family will be forever a pariah in Minnesota ... the Pohlad name will be remembered with contempt. ... For 41 years, the Twins have added greatly this state's social fabric and identity. Letting them die when we need them most is foolish indeed" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/4). In MN, Bill McAuliffe reported the Twins recently signed an ongoing "use agreement" with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission that "could present a legal hurdle" for contraction. The deal requires the team to "actually play baseball at the Metrodome next year, and not just buy out the lease" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/3). Also in MN, Joe Soucheray, on tomorrow's meeting: "Those owners don't know what they have coming. Mr. Pohlad didn't get to be Mr. Pohlad by throwing in any towels" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 11/4). In FL, Sarah Talalay noted "some suggest" Pohlad "holds the key to whatever plan is eventually considered" (Ft. Lauderdale SUN-SENTINEL, 11/3). In Minneapolis, St. Anthony & Diaz reported a group of Twin Cities execs is trying to "assemble a new offer" to purchase the Twins from Pohlad. The group includes Wells Fargo Bank of MN Chair Jim Campbell, U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray exec Paul Grangaard, former West Publishing CEO Vance Opperman, attorney Michael Ciresi and others (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/3).
WILL IT WORK FOR MLB? Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist writes of contraction in this week's BUSINESSWEEK, "Baseball would face a public-relations minefield. The courts or Congress would likely decide that baseball is acting in bad faith and narrow the antitrust exemption that allows it to, among other things, maintain restrictive labor practices in the minor leagues" (BUSINESSWEEK, 11/12 issue). In Atlanta, Tim Tucker wrote, "Contraction smacks more of desperation than of solution. Eradicating weak franchises symptoms of the problems would be a crude and cruel non-remedy that would do nothing to level the economic and competitive imbalance among the remaining teams" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 11/4). In Houston, Dale Robertson wrote MLB "risks pushing a weary, worried public too far. The looming wartime winter seems a terribly ill-advised juncture to force a fundamental restructuring on the game. Might not rolling over the current agreement for one extra season be the prudent, tactful course?" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/4). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel: "There are no guarantees that contraction cures anything more than eliminating two struggling franchises, and that baseball will not have to deal with its same problems as before" (FT. WORTH STAR TELEGRAM, 11/4).
DID CONTRACTION TALK CLOUD SERIES? Selig: "To be quite candid with you, I'm surprised at the lack of contraction stories, except in the cities of the alleged candidates." When asked if the contraction stories had "gotten in the way" of the World Series stories, Selig said, "I hope not. I don't think it has" (Jayson Stark, ESPN.com, 11/4)....SALON.com's King Kaufman wrote that after "maybe the most exciting" World Series in the last 25 years baseball will "sink into a morass of labor squabbling and assorted offseason ugliness" (SALON.com, 11/4).
WILL IT OR WON'T IT? CONTRACTION NOTES: In Boston, Gordon Edes wrote if MLB contracts any teams, "it won't be for at least another year. The union won't allow it without a major fight" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/4). But the STAR-TELEGRAM's Engel wrote, "What was once nothing more than a distracting rumor now appears to be reality" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 11/3)....Padres 3B Dave Magadan, a former player rep for the MLBPA, said, "My gut feeling is we won't have a work stoppage. The atmosphere before September 11, I think, was not like it was during the last negotiating period. It didn't look like they were posturing for a lockout" (DENVER POST, 11/4)....An NL source said Expos Managing General Partner Jeffrey Loria would be able to "select a limited number of Expos players" to take with him to Florida if he purchases the Marlins from John Henry should MLB contract the Expos. In MN, Gordon Wittenmyer reports Henry would then "take the same number of Marlins players to Anaheim when he assumes control of the Angels" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 11/5)....In DC, Eric Fisher wrote, "And what about marketing? Despite the thrilling World Series, how do you convince the public the sport is still relevant right after making a de facto admission that the last several years of Twins and Expos baseball have been an utter waste of time for all those involved?" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 11/4). In Oakland, Carl Steward wrote that contraction "should be a sobering warning bell" for Oakland that the city needs to take "tangible steps" within the next year on building a new ballpark for the A's or the team "likely will be baseball's next target" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 11/4)....The SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Liz Mullen notes legal opinion is "sharply divided" over whether MLB can contract teams without the approval of the MLBPA (SBJ, 11/5 issue).
NOTES: In Denver, Mike Klis noted contraction was the idea of Rockies Chair Jerry McMorris. McMorris: "I just didn't understand why we continued to spread the money to places that continuously showed they don't have the type of support you need for baseball to survive" (DENVER POST, 11/4).... Zimbalist, on Selig considering contracting the Twins, which could directly increase the Brewers' market, the team Selig once owned and is currently operated by Selig's daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb: "Structurally, there's a conflict of interest. It's bad because you want a person who has broader, longer-term vision and not someone who has a vision occluded by being the owner of a franchise." But Brewers VP/Marketing Laurel Prieb, Selig's son-in-law, said "anyone who knows him wouldn't question" the possibility of a conflict (Jay Weiner, Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/5).