Baseball's tentative labor agreement clearly improves the chances for new
Twins ownership and for a new franchise-saving ballpark, Twins owner Carl Pohlad
"My response is very positive, of course," he said. "It
hopefully will result in a more favorable baseball operation here in the Twin
However, several legislators said that labor peace does not guarantee a
successful legislative season for the team. Although national baseball officials
generally praised the deal, some state politicians remained skeptical regarding
"I was hoping for a strike," said Rep. Mike Osskopp, R-Lake City, a
persistent critic of public financing for a ballpark. "The Twins need a
wholesale restructuring of baseball's economic system, not this little
Even the chief sponsor of this year's stadium legislation was wary of
"I don't see it doing much at all," said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar.
"It slows down the bleeding, if you will."
He called the settlement "a short-term solution," forestalling
possible contraction of weak franchises for only four years. "It takes
three to four years to build a new ballpark," he said. "Then we could
have contraction. We're not going to have egg on our face like that."
Twins officials offered a dramatically different prediction on the effects of
the new agreement. Ralph Strangis, the Minneapolis lawyer Pohlad hired last year
to help sell the team, predicted that the new agreement would eliminate
uncertainties about baseball's economics that had been bothersome to prospective
buyers of the Twins.
"This makes it substantially more likely that we can sell the
team," he said.
"I don't think there's any question about that," added Pohlad, who
also noted that the accord would "firm up the price" for the Twins.
Asked whether he would consider keeping the Twins as a family asset if no
buyer stepped forward, Pohlad said, "I'm not prepared to respond to that
simply because we have announced we would like to sell the team and this will
enhance our ability to do it."
Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who has expressed interest in
buying the Twins, could not be reached Friday for comment.
Ballpark is the key
Settling the ownership question is seen by many politicians as a prerequisite
to a workable stadium deal. And without a new revenue-enhancing stadium, the
Twins say they are doomed in Minnesota.
Even this year, with increased attendance that could approach 2 million,
Twins President Jerry Bell said the club is certain to lose money.
"That's a function of the stadium," he said.
Pohlad said the proposed pact with the players' union not only would improve
competitive balance in the league for the next four years, but also would set a
positive labor tone beyond the proposed expiration of the deal.
"It's a great moment in baseball and historically I think it will go
down in history as one of the most important things that has happened,"
Pohlad said. "I'm speaking of baseball, but of course the Twins are a part
The development, he said, would definitely improve the odds for construction
of a new ballpark built with taxpayer help. At the Capitol last year, many
legislators wanted assurances that baseball would do something to make
small-market teams such as the Twins more viable.
"We think this agreement will go a long way toward restoring competitive
balance," Bell said. "It will be a little easier for us to be more
Sam Grabarski, president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said the
settlement will make a big difference to business leaders who have been
contemplating ways to help stabilize the Twins by pitching in on a new ballpark.
Grabarski said a strike would have endangered that enthusiasm.
"This puts us back together," he said. "It can go in a lot of
different directions now."
Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat, who has been developing a new
county-led ballpark proposal, said a strike would have undoubtedly killed
business community involvement in the bid.
"We're looking for something quite significant from the business
community," he said. "More than a few million dollars. A strike would
have made it very hard to recruit that kind of help.
"This certainly helps. We're excited."
Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities
Commission, said the biggest short-term effect at the Metrodome will be to save
paychecks for about 700 people who work at Twins games for various employers. It
also means the commission can proceed with plans to schedule from one to 11
baseball playoff games at the Dome.
"That's very positive for all those men and women who work there,"
Stadium a low priority?
The plan Johnson shepherded into law this year offered state borrowing and
local taxing authority to help build a ballpark in exchange for baseball
restructuring its economics. The settlement, he said, "moves in that
direction, but it doesn't fulfill the total concern of economic reform. There's
still too much money in the system."
Next year, he added, the Twins will be low on the Legislature's list of
priorities, far behind balancing the state budget, funding education and
"I would entertain the notion of reopening the bill," Johnson said.
"But there will be only very narrow amendments and no general tax
Meanwhile, the leading candidates for governor were generally more sanguine
about the settlement.
• Green Party endorsee Ken Pentel said it shows that baseball's leaders
"obviously can deal with their problems. They don't need us. Now I want to
see the Twins win the World Series." But he said youth athletic facilities,
universal health care and affordable housing should be funded before stadiums
for professional sports.
• David Ruth, spokesman for Independence Party candidate Tim Penny, said
the accord could pave the way for the Legislature to revisit its stadium bill
and include taxing authority for Hennepin County. Counties are excluded from the
law passed by the Legislature last session. Ruth called the settlement's
economic reforms "a big step in the right way."
• Bill Harper, campaign manager for DFLer Roger Moe, said a strike would
have created "a real PR problem for the players and the league," but
averting it allows the Legislature to try again for a stadium deal. Even so,
Harper added, a ballpark is "probably not in the top 10 priorities for
• Peter Hong, a campaign spokesman for Republican endorsee Tim Pawlenty,
said: "Today's deal clearly shows that Major League Baseball responded to
the accountability demanded by Minnesotans and principled leaders like Tim
Pawlenty. As governor, he will continue to hold a tough line in holding baseball
acocuntable to fans and taxpayers."
Perhaps surprisingly, the most positive legislative reaction came from an
outspoken critic of public stadium financing, Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville.
"As a fan, I'm thrilled," he said. "A strike would have been
outrageous and terrible and unnecessary. The settlement should give the state
more time to come up with a fair solution -- a privately funded solution --
instead of a taxpayer bailout."