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Twins considered for elimination
by Barry Jackson, Charley Walters and Gordon Wittenmyer

Major League Baseball over the past several weeks has discussed a scenario in which Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad would be bought out as part of multiteam ownership change that would eliminate franchises in the Twin Cities and Montreal, the Miami Herald reported in today's editions.

Florida Marlins owner John Henry would buy the Anaheim Angels, and Montreal Expos owner Jeffrey Loria would become owner of the Marlins, according to industry sources with direct knowledge of the discussion, the Herald reported. Under one of the numerous plans discussed by league officials, the Twins and Expos would be eliminated, according to two sources.

The sources indicated the likelihood of the deal occurring is believed to be less than 50 percent because several parties would have to agree to financial terms, and baseball would need to eliminate two teams, which probably would meet with opposition.

Asked Wednesday whether anyone in Major League Baseball had contacted him regarding his team and contraction, Pohlad said: "I don't know. Right now we're waiting for the World Series, and then what to do with baseball's labor situation. All of baseball is waiting to see what happens with the labor situation."

Asked whether he has considered contraction, he said: "I haven't even thought about it. That's newspaper talk."

Baseball spokesman Rich Levin, asked about the possibility of Henry owning the Angels, Loria owning the Marlins, and the Twins and Expos disbanding, said: "It's just another rumor. It's very fluid. Contraction is viable. The commissioner has said he will address these issues after the World Series."

If Pohlad, 86, wants to be bought out, contraction would be much easier. But even if he does, there could be legal challenges to such moves by the cities losing teams and by the Major League Baseball Players Association, which says baseball's hierarchy has to negotiate contraction.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig could not be reached for comment. Selig and a few owners have vaguely discussed the idea of contraction for more than a year. The franchises with stadium and attendance problems were the likely candidates. The argument for contraction is that eliminating weaker franchises would make the other teams stronger -- the player pool would not be spread as thin -- and serve as leverage in negotiations with the players union for the next collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires at the end of this season's World Series, which starts Saturday.

Reports this week in the New York Daily News and the Windsor Star of Windsor, Ontario, said the Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays would be eliminated. Selig denied that report in Wednesday's New York Times.

"I've made no decisions yet," Selig said, according to the Times. "I've been saying for a year that it's a viable option. We have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of questions we haven't answered yet."

The Twins, Expos, Marlins and Angels have struggled in recent years to build revenue-producing stadiums or fill the ones they have.

The Twins' latest plan for a $300 million open-air stadium involved public funding, but the bill was not voted on during the 2001 Minnesota Legislature. The Twins declined to endorse a proposal made in May by St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman to build a stadium near the Xcel Energy Center because the plan required too much investment by the team.

Yet another state panel has been formed to explore stadium options. That group could issue a report by the time the 2002 Legislature convenes Jan. 29. But the panel only has the power to offer suggestions, and there is no clear signal politicians and the public are ready for public funding of a stadium for the Twins or Vikings.

Meanwhile, on Oct. 6, Pohlad announced he had sold most of his family's interest in Marquette Banks for what industry sources estimated to be $800 million to $1 billion.

The possibility of the Twins being sold or eliminated raises new questions about the timing of manager Tom Kelly's retirement. During his Oct. 12 news conference announcing his retirement, Kelly said a general feeling of weariness this season, along with some "very personal" reasons, led to the decision he made about two weeks earlier.

But Kelly, who has been as close to Pohlad as anyone in the organization, said Wednesday night that his decision to retire had nothing to do with the way he sees the future of the franchise and that he hasn't heard anything about any proposals to eliminate the Twins. Kelly said Pohlad offered him a three-year contract to manage the Twins.

"That doesn't make sense," he said. "If I had an inkling the team was going to be contracted, why wouldn't I sign a three-year contract? Somebody's going to pay me. Why would the man offer a three-year contract if he knows the team is going to be contracted?"

Buying the Angels would benefit Henry, who has been unable to secure a new stadium in south Florida, and appeal to Loria, whose Expos have drawn sparse crowds. Disney, which owns the Angels, has wanted to sell the Angels. Henry, the Marlins' owner, declined to comment Wednesday because Selig is threatening a $1 million fine for baseball officials who speak about the game's economics.

Potential lawsuits are the most serious obstacle facing baseball if it decides to eliminate two teams. According to a source, Selig is fearful Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth would go to court if Major League Baseball tries to move or eliminate the Marlins or Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Baseball also fears lawsuits from companies affiliated with the eliminated teams, such as broadcast partners.