Easter break is the traditional time for legislators to escape the Capitol bubble and
take the public temperature. On the issue of baseball's future in Minnesota, our sense is
that hostility toward a new ballpark has receded, replaced by a cooler, more pragmatic
view that the Twins (and Vikings) are important assets that should be retained if some
reasonable solution can be found.
The bill for a new Twins stadium offered this session was a reasonable solution that
didn't get a fair airing. House Speaker Steve Sviggum and other Republican leaders may
have miscalculated by killing it, and it's possible they'll pay a political price
Surely the dagger inflicted on Wednesday will be taken by Baseball Commissioner Bud
Selig as a message from Minnesota that reads as follows: If part of next year's deal with
the players on restoring competitive balance to the game requires lopping off a few
recalcitrant franchises, please move the Twins to the top of the list.
No one can say how real the threat of contraction is, only that a number of owners have
proposed eliminating Montreal and Minnesota, clubs that are struggling in large part
because they've failed to secure suitable places to play. Owners are wondering why, in
their upcoming negotiations, they should agree to share even more of their revenues with
the Twins and Expos when their communities refuse to help. After all, 18 other franchises
have built new ballparks in the last decade, 17 with public money.
Our hope is that baseball will give the Twins more time. If not, Sviggum and his caucus
leaders bear significant responsibility. They're right that in a perfect world the public
subsidy for professional sports would be zero. Unfortunately, the world is far from
perfect. The bill they killed included no new taxes and required the Twins initially to
pay 50 percent -- and eventually cover more than 90 percent -- of the cost of a new
ballpark. Stadium deals don't get much sweeter.
There's nothing wrong with Minnesota driving a hard bargain as long as the team is not
sacrificed in the process. Sviggum has invited the Twins (should they avoid the chopping
block) to return with a bill next session if baseball mends its ways. With the Vikings
also in the hunt next year, the price tag will be eye-popping. Legislators are doing no
favors by continuing to dodge this issue. Sviggum's cavalier dismissal was an insult to
the hard-working volunteers -- Republicans and Democrats -- who labored six months to
craft the ballpark bill. Its resurrection is unlikely, despite the spirit of the season.
That leaves St. Paul and Minneapolis to tackle the problem -- although neither city can
deliver without some state involvement in the end. Minneapolis' plan has special merit
because it's led by private initiative and envisions a classic neighborhood ballpark on a
particularly good site.
Despite obvious flaws, professional sports are important to this region's cultural
fabric and competitive future. A reasonable solution for keeping the Twins is close at
hand if only legislators can grasp it.