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