Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch said Thursday the state almost certainly
would legally fight any Major League Baseball plan that involves eliminating or
moving the Minnesota Twins.
"We would use all of our resources and pursue all the remedies we've
got,'' Hatch said.
The prospect of the Twins' franchise being eliminated as part of a multiteam
ownership change failed to warm Gov. Jesse Ventura or legislators Thursday to
the idea of a new ballpark to improve the team's financial picture.
The comments came as Minnesotans once again faced the possibility of losing
the Twins, who threatened four years ago to leave for North Carolina. This time,
baseball officials are discussing a scenario in which Twins owner Carl Pohlad
would be bought out as part of a deal that would eliminate franchises in the
Twin Cities and Montreal. This scenario, reported Wednesday by the Miami Herald,
would involve ownership changes with the Florida Marlins and Anaheim Angels. The
Herald sources gave the deal less than a 50 percent chance of occurring.
"There's no question whatsoever the governor would not like to see the
Twins leave the state of Minnesota or be eliminated as a franchise,'' Ventura
spokesman John Wodele said. "Having said that, there is no indication his
position would be changed in terms of the development of a new stadium.''
Ventura, Wodele said, has opposed any direct public subsidy of state tax
dollars and continues to feel that way.
Several lawmakers questioned the likelihood of the deal, its ability to
withstand legal challenges, and baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's ulterior
motives, viewing the scenario as simply leverage for upcoming labor talks.
They said they would need to know more before reassessing ballpark bills that
languished last spring after passing a half-dozen committees. Both call for
Major League Baseball to share more money with low-revenue teams such as the
Twins before a ballpark is built. Sponsors say the House bill forces the Twins
to pay 97 percent of the cost and the Senate bill 83 percent.
Hatch said his office would launch a thorough review of state antitrust laws.
In 1997, former Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III began a
sweeping investigation of the Twins' threat to move to North Carolina, demanding
thousands of pages of documents in a probe of possible violations of antitrust
laws aimed at ensuring business competition.
The Minnesota Supreme Court barred him from obtaining them, ruling the U.S.
Supreme Court had given baseball immunity from antitrust laws. Two years ago,
the High Court refused to review the case.
Hatch said the court ruled narrowly, saying the state could not subpoena
information from a company before a lawsuit alleging violations of federal law,
not state law. "If this occurs, we will look at all the laws in this
state,'' Hatch said.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said the latest scenario could
help or hurt the stadium effort, depending on whether it turns out to be an
attempt to scare the public or serious. Lawmakers, he said, have been more
willing recently to work with the Twins.
"I think it's fairly clear that if Minnesota wants to be a major league
state, it must figure out a way to get some sort of package worked out,'' Moe
Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said Pohlad appears to benefit from the
uncertainties of the situation.
"I think he'd hope a serious threat about contraction would put
legislators in a serious tizzy, so they would give him what he wants,'' said
Marty, a longtime opponent of a taxpayer-subsidized stadium.
Rep. Loren Jennings, DFL-Harris, who sponsored stadium-funding bills in 1997,
said he saw no signs Ventura or legislative leaders are interested in putting
state money into a ballpark for the Twins.