Return to Index Mission Statement Stadium Situation Articles about the Twins' quest for a new park Why the Twins need a new park Concerns about a new Twins park Thoughts about the Twins and the stadium issue Save the Twins poll Twins links Contact Webmaster Save the Minnesota Twins is dedicated to keeping baseball 
in Minnesota by helping the Twins build a new stadium.
home > articles > article

Twins still threatened by anti-stadium crowd at Capitol
by Gordon Wittenmyer

Baseball's tentative labor agreement clearly improves the chances for new Twins ownership and for a new franchise-saving ballpark, Twins owner Carl Pohlad said Friday.

"My response is very positive, of course," he said. "It hopefully will result in a more favorable baseball operation here in the Twin Cities."

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 baseball's economics.

"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 tweaking."

Even the chief sponsor of this year's stadium legislation was wary of Friday's settlement.

"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 of baseball."

The develo

Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz took a moment Friday to consider that for the first time in 10 months, nothing immediately threatened the existence of his team.

Not contraction, not a labor strike, not a crisis in sight.

"Now I'm kind of wondering what's next," he said.

Unfortunately for the Twins and their fans, Mientkiewicz's question was being answered back in Minnesota almost as he spoke in the visitors' clubhouse in Oakland, Calif.

State legislators, who passed a stadium bill in May that had no chance of resulting in a stadium, reacted coolly, and, in some cases, ignorantly, to what otherwise should have been a day for those who care about baseball in Minnesota to celebrate.

Instead, people such as Rep. Mike Osskopp, R-Lake City, a vocal opponent of public financing for a stadium, is quoted saying: "I was hoping for a strike. The Twins need a wholesale restructuring of baseball's economic system, not this little tweaking."

No, the Twins need a stadium that produces local revenue comparable to other medium-market teams with new stadiums or a cable superstation that suddenly appears from nowhere to triple their local revenue.

They don't need to have the New York Yankees' economic wherewithal. They never have had that and never have needed that. If they can return to the ranks of the average in the sport, they would have the power to keep their own players longer and use the strength of their scouting and player development system to remain competitive on the field.

To suggest that what transpired last week was insignificant is to express no understanding of the history of bitter labor negotiations in this sport and the history of mistrust and mistreatment between the sides, and no understanding of the power of the baseball players' union.

Friday's agreement was nothing short of historic, both in fact and scope.

Osskopp's public ignorance was not isolated.

State Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, who has boasted of his work to produce May's impotent stadium bill, echoed Osskopp's comments "I don't see it doing much at all" and called the four-year reprieve from contraction a "short-term solution."

His most incriminating comment: "It takes three to four years to build a new ballpark. Then we could have contraction. We're not going to have egg on our face like that."

That's asinine.

It's hard to imagine a more undereducated point of view. The moment ground is broken on a revenue-producing stadium, the Twin Cities become golden in Major League Baseball's eyes.

It's not a market MLB wants to abandon in any case. Even in the bleakest of contraction scenarios, the Minneapolis-St. Paul market was viewed as potentially fertile ground for relocation of other hardship franchises again, given the promise of better local revenue (most likely through a mostly publicly funded stadium).

The four-year reprieve, for all practical purposes, kills contraction for good unless the reforms somehow, inexplicably, produce a result in opposition to the intent.

The logic used by these state leaders does not come close to connecting to any reality associated with major league baseball.

It sounds a lot like the same kind of politicking that allowed those who voted for the stadium bill in May to claim they made an effort to keep the Twins in Minnesota without ever having to worry about public money being spent on a stadium.

That bill required so much private investment that it made the sale of the team almost a prerequisite for getting a stadium, considering owner Carl Pohlad said he won't spend any money on it impossible. Pohlad wants an inflated price for the team that takes into account the stadium bill, and any potential buyer would be nuts to pay extra for the team knowing a nine-figure stadium bill is right around the corner.

It has greater potential for creating team debt for years before giving an investor any chance to operate in the black.

That's why the team plans to go back to the Legislature for a better package. And with Friday's historic agreement that signaled baseball's biggest step yet toward cleaning up its economic house, the Twins have a right to expect a warmer welcome this time around.

If politicians such as Johnson want to boast of passing a stadium bill, then do it for real. Pass one that gets the job done. Get behind an outright tax increase, or get creative, but get to work. Otherwise, be honest about it and get out of the way.

Osskopp? At least we're clear where he stands. He doesn't want to publicly finance a stadium. Fine. But be careful to characterize such a subsidy as some kind of citizens-vs.-billionaire-owners issue.

This is about what Minnesota is willing to do to have access to big-league baseball, compared to what Detroit is willing to do, or Cleveland, or Cincinnati, or Milwaukee all locales that have stabilized their baseball franchises and made them more economically competitive by building new stadiums. The issue has nothing to do with baseball owners or how much they make or how much they pay their players.

It's simply a matter of whether we want them to do it here or somewhere else.