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State leaders taking Twins buyout talk seriously
Associated Press

State leaders say talk in baseball circles that the Minnesota Twins could be eliminated is being taken seriously, but some warned that it better not be a hollow threat in the team's bid for a new stadium.

``It ought not be used as a ploy because that would really backfire,'' Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, who has been supportive of stadium proposals, said Wednesday.

Major League Baseball is considering contraction, in which a couple of struggling franchises could be folded. The Twins, Montreal Expos, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are teams considered vulnerable.

The Twins didn't make owner Carl Pohlad available for an interview with The Associated Press, but Pohlad told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in a story published today that he hasn't asked his fellow owners for a buyout. But he said it could happen if the other owners want it.

``I've furnished a team here for 15 years and put $150 million cash into it, and I'm not going to do it anymore,'' Pohlad said. ``I'm tired of it. A business has to pay for itself. Nobody in this town in the last 15 years has given as much as I have to baseball.''

Pohlad, who bought the Twins in 1984, has spent several years trying to convince lawmakers that he can't turn a profit without a new, publicly subsidized ballpark.

Momentum seemed to shift in his favor in the 2001 session, when stadium financing plans moved through House and Senate committees and wound up a few steps away from Gov. Jesse Ventura's desk. Backers hoped to finish the job in 2002.

Within the next few days, officials from the Republican-controlled House, DFL-led Senate and Ventura's administration expect to launch a stadium task force to explore options.

The contraction talk will be part of the context.

``I'm not sure that totally changes the mix of what's appropriate state action and what's not appropriate state action,'' said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon. ``But I consider it to be serious.''

Likewise, Ventura ``is as anxious as most citizens are about this latest report,'' his spokesman John Wodele said.

``We're taking it very seriously. We have no way to know. Nobody has contacted us so we have to take it at face value,'' Wodele said. ``If Carl Pohlad says it is a possibility, he is a very trustworthy person, he is not loose with his comments.''

Wodele said Ventura is still hopeful that a privately financed ballpark can be built and the prospect of contraction doesn't mean he'll change his tack.

Pohlad could also sell the Twins and let the new owner or owners fight contraction or lobby for public money for a new ballpark, and in the Pioneer Press story said he preferred that to a buyout.

Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, who has considered buying the team with other investors, said Wednesday he hasn't been contacted by the Pohlads. He said there's ``nothing special at this point,'' adding, ``I'm a Twins fan, so I support keeping baseball here just like everyone else.''

Moe and Sen. Dean Johnson, who sponsored a stadium bill in 2001, said they want assurances from Major League Baseball that the loss of the Twins is a real possibility and not a card being played in the stadium effort.

And they want word before next session, which convenes Jan. 29.

``Major League Baseball needs to give a true, verifiable assessment as to the status of baseball in Minnesota - pure and simple,'' said Johnson, DFL-Willmar.

Moe, DFL-Erskine, alluded to a failed 1997 deal in the height of a stadium fight at the Legislature, when Pohlad agreed to sell the Twins to a North Carolina businessman who was to move the team. Minnesota lawmakers didn't flinch and the team stayed put.

``If there are discussions within organized baseball (about contraction), they better be serious. This better not be another hairy arm,'' Moe said. ``We've been there; it backfired the last time.''