NEW YORK -- Unable to eliminate teams this season, Bud Selig sounded a
familiar baseball cry Tuesday: Wait 'til next year!
Stung by a streak of legal losses, the commissioner backed down from folding
the Minnesota Twins
and Montreal Expos
this season but vowed to shrink the major leagues by 2003.
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal to lift the
injunction that forces the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome.
"I couldn't really rest in peace. Now I can," Twins outfielder Torii
Hunter said. "It's the front office people who needed to know in case
they had to find other jobs. And the beer vendors and other workers. It's sad
that they could lose their jobs."
Owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams but did not specify which ones.
Their labor negotiators later told the players' association the Twins and Expos
Montreal, which joined the major leagues in 1969, is likely to exist for only
more season. The Expos have drawn few fans in recent years and owner Jeffrey
Loria is in the process of selling the franchise to the other teams for $120
million. Loria also is buying the Florida
Marlins from John Henry for $158.5 million, and deals are likely to be
approved by major league owners on Feb. 12.
The commissioner's office will appoint someone to run the Expos this year and
the team would then either be eliminated or moved, perhaps to Washington.
But the attempt to eliminate the Twins could wind up resulting in government
funding for a new ballpark in Minnesota, which would ensure the team's longterm
survival. Selig could then turn to other candidates for contraction, such as
Tampa Bay, Miami, Oakland and Anaheim.
"While the clubs would have preferred to contract for 2002 and begin
addressing the economic issues immediately, events outside of our direct
control, including yesterday's court decision in Minnesota, have required us to
move the date of contraction to 2003," Selig said.
As recently as last week, Selig had vowed to press on, saying the elimination
of teams was needed to stem industry losses, which he claims totaled hundreds of
millions of dollars last year. His announcement came just nine days before the
start of spring training.
"Contraction was an initiative of the 30 clubs and continues to be
wholly supported by that group," he said. "The clubs recognize that
our current economic circumstance make contraction absolutely inevitable, as
certain franchises simply cannot compete and cannot generate enough revenues to
survive. Quite a few of our clubs advocate contraction by as many as four
The players' association remains an obstacle to eliminating teams for 2003.
The union filed a grievance to block contraction, claiming the owners' vote
violated the players' labor contract, which expired Nov. 7 but remains in force.
Arbitrator Shyam Das heard his 12th day of testimony in the case Tuesday, and
the sides were to meet with the arbitrator Wednesday to determine how quickly to
finish the case.
"I, personally, had hoped that the union had an interest in helping us
solve our economic and competitive balance problems," said Paul Beeston,
baseball's chief operating officer. "It is evident now that they have no
such interest and that is a great disappointment to me.
"We had several discussions this spring and summer indicating our
consideration of contraction. The union's vigorous opposition to contraction was
inconsistent with those earlier discussions."
Owners claim they must bargain with the union only on the effects of
contraction, such as player dispersal, not the decision to eliminate teams. The
union was angered by Beeston's statement.
"We are pleased that the 2002 season will proceed with 30 teams,"
union head Donald Fehr said. "However, it is regrettable that the clubs
continue to assert that they can and will act unilaterally, rather than by
negotiation and agreement."
The primary road block to eliminating the Twins was their lease at the
Metrodome, extended by the team in September through the 2002 season.
The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome,
sued to force the Twins to honor their lease, and Hennepin County District Judge
Harry Seymour Crump issued the injunction on Nov. 16. The Minnesota Court of
Appeals upheld the order Jan. 22 in a 3-0 vote.
"It just puts a finality to all of this for now. It's what we were
hoping for with spring training just around the corner," Twins GM Terry
Ryan said from his Metrodome office. "I'll tell you, there are a lot of
smiles in this building today, on a lot of people.
"It just means it's done for the 2002 season, and we know in 2003 it's
still a possibility," he said. "That puts a sense of urgency on us,
that we have to put together a club in spring training that will be competitive
again this season."
Alabama businessman Donald Watkins has begun talks to acquire the team from
Carl Pohlad, who bought the franchise in 1984 to keep it from moving.
The attempt to eliminate teams generated political opposition. The Senate
Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Feb. 13 on legislation to remove
baseball's antitrust exemption as it applies to franchise folding or relocation.
"I commend the commissioner for his belated realization that eliminating
major league baseball teams this year would be a disaster for the game and a
disservice to the fans. This move gives us a cooling off period," said Rep.
John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.
"There is no doubt that this was the result of grassroots opposition
from baseball fans, communities, players and the American public," said
Sen. Paul D. Wellstone, D-Minn. "The battle is far from over because
today's decision only grants us a one-year reprieve."