The Senate sponsor of Twins stadium legislation told the team's player
representative that the threat of a strike by the players union "has all
but dissolved the public's desire to contribute to a new stadium."
In a letter to Denny Hocking, the Twins players' union representative, Sen.
Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said that if there is a strike, the Legislature
"will find it difficult to reopen" stadium discussions in 2003,
particularly given cuts in government services, a looming budget deficit,
transportation needs and the damage done to parts of the state by floods. A copy
of the letter was sent to Twins President Jerry Bell.
"Legislators' focus next session will be on the budget deficit, not
another stadium bill," Johnson said in the letter. "If there is a
strike, a stadium bill would be even less of a priority."
He added: "A players' strike would be detrimental to baseball, but
possibly devastating to the Minnesota Twins."
Hocking said the letter puts him in an awkward position.
"It seems like I'm being blamed here," he said. "I'm part of a
union. If 29 guys vote one way and I vote the other, how does that make me look
to my peers?"
Hocking added: "I'm sure there have been times when [Johnson has] gone
through that. Someone is trying to pass a bill they are not 100 percent in favor
of, but they still go ahead and agree to it. That's the way I feel."
Hocking said the Twins' survival depends on a new stadium.
"It's apparent we can't survive in Major League Baseball because of the
revenue we do not generate. Building a new stadium would generate that
revenue," he said.
Johnson's letter adds another elected official's voice to the chorus of
concern being raised about a strike. DFL gubernatorial candidate Roger Moe, who
was supportive of stadium bills as Senate majority leader, said in a letter last
week to league and Twins officials as well as players that his backing will
disappear if there is a strike.
In the letter he said: "If I am elected governor of Minnesota, I simply
will not allow Minnesota to become partners with people whose greed is so
uncontrollable and so far removed from the financial difficulties that most
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, also said last week that a strike
would cast a "negative cloud" over any debate.
"They're not only going to destroy the national pastime of baseball, but
the chances of a stadium bill would be severely damaged," he said.
A six-year effort by the Twins to win taxpayer support for a new stadium
climaxed this legislative session in historic votes in the House and Senate to
approve financing for a $330 million ballpark.
The Major League Baseball Players Association set a strike date of Aug. 30
last week. That could end the Twins' remarkable season before the team reaches
the playoffs for the first time since 1991. The union's executive board approved
the date in a 57-0 vote, putting the sport on course for its ninth work stoppage
Johnson, a baseball fan, ends his letter to Hocking on a positive note:
"All the best to you and your colleagues as you work diligently on these
difficult times. And congratulations on an exciting season and possible
Hocking said he still feels that an agreement can be reached between players
-- Staff writer La Velle Neal and the Associated Press contributed to this report.