by Neal St. Anthony, Jim Souhan and Robert Whereatt
With major league baseball planning to buy out two clubs as early as next
week, time -- not money -- is the first obstacle for Twin Cities business
executives who are scrambling to form a group to buy the Minnesota Twins and
present a stadium-financing plan to the 2002 Legislature.
The team moves closer to elimination each day, and there are few signs of
progress in efforts to save it. It will probably take luck and lawsuits to buy
the time that attorney Mike Ciresi, businessman Vance Opperman and others say
they need to respond to last month's decision to kill two teams.
The Twins and the Montreal Expos are considered the leading candidates for
elimination among the 30 major league teams.
"Litigation is an option," said Ciresi, chairman of the Minneapolis
firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi. "We need time." He noted
that litigation won't provide the final solution.
Nevertheless, litigation is a critical part of the strategy to at least
postpone contraction, baseball's term for eliminating teams. On Monday, U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he has asked baseball
Commissioner Bud Selig to give the Twin Cities a year to come up with a plan.
In Washington, D.C., Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich.,
planned a news conference for today to announce that they're introducing a bill
to limit baseball's exemption from federal antitrust laws.
Although he declined to endorse the bill because he hadn't studied it yet,
Daschle views it as "a symbol of how seriously the U.S. Senate is taking
this issue," said Rodell Mollineau, his spokesman.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Reps. Betty McCollum and Martin Sabo, Democrats
from Minnesota, plan to attend the news conference to promote the Fairness in
Antitrust in National Sports (FANS) Act. It would make the elimination or
relocation of a baseball team subject to antitrust laws.
Wellstone and Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., wrote to President Bush last week,
urging him to support the bill. But the White House hasn't weighed in, saying it
would be premature to do so.
On Thursday, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates
the Metrodome, plans to ask a Hennepin County district judge to prevent Major
League Baseball and the Twins from pursuing contraction and order the Twins to
honor their one-year lease at the Metrodome in 2002.
State Attorney General Mike Hatch has threatened to sue baseball owners to
stop elimination of the Twins and strip them of their exemption to antitrust
laws that permits them to collaborate on business-related issues.
Ciresi said he and Opperman have received many overtures from possible
investors in the Twins and gotten encouragement from government officials in the
"Ask me at the end of the week," Ciresi said of who lead investors
might be. "There are people from here and people from outside of
Ciresi, a millionaire, said that he may be a minority investor in the Twins
or a stadium, but that he doesn't plan to be a major investor or executive.
He declined to comment on whether Glen Taylor, the owner of the National
Basketball Association's Minnesota Timberwolves, is involved. Taylor, whose $100
million-plus offer was rebuffed a couple of years ago by Twins owner Carl Pohlad,
has remained silent on his interest in the Twins. He did not return a call
For those working to save the Twins, here's why time is of the essence: Selig
has told reporters he hopes to name the two teams to be eliminated by late
November, and the owners' lawyers have been quoted as saying they want to hold a
dispersal draft of players from the affected teams during the owners' meetings
in Boston from Dec. 9 to 13.
Selig says relocation or stalling team elimination aren't viable options.
"No, because we've talked about all the solutions available," he
He also said he would balk at allowing the two teams to play lame-duck
seasons in 2002.
The Major League Baseball Players Association reacted to Selig's announcement
about contraction with a strong statement from union head Donald Fehr and has
assured players that the union thinks teams won't be eliminated before the 2002
"We still believe we're going to be playing in Minnesota next
year," said Twins union representative Denny Hocking.
The Players Association filed a grievance last Wednesday, arguing that
elimination would violate its labor contract.
Task force named
Gov. Jesse Ventura's office on Tuesday named its six members of an 18-member
task force that is to study options for baseball and football stadiums, said
John Wodele, the governor's spokesman.
State House and Senate leaders named their members last Thursday.
Last week, state House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he wants the
task force meeting before Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 22.
Sen. Roy Terwilliger, R-Edina, a task force member and an advocate of a new
baseball stadium, said Tuesday that he believes that public opposition for a
partly subsidized stadium has diminished.
But Ventura and legislators need to lead, he said.
The Legislature's next session won't begin until Jan. 29, but Terwilliger, a
sponsor of a bill for a $300 million open-air baseball stadium, said he still
has hope. "It's not a done deal yet," he said.
Unlike Gov. Arne Carlson, who in 1997 led the Twins' charge for a new
stadium, Ventura has taken a hands-off approach.
Last week he reminded Minnesotans that he campaigned on a pledge of opposing
the use of state tax money for a stadium. But he cracked the door, saying that a
user tax, such as a ticket tax, might be acceptable.
"The trouble the governor is having now is seeing a way out,"
Wodele said. "It looks very difficult with contraction. What are we
supposed to do? Does somebody have a magic bullet?"
Many businesspeople and legislators have said they believe that new
ownership, after several years of futile attempts by Pohlad to get public
financing for a stadium, is critical.
Attorney Ciresi; Paul Grangaard, a Piper Jaffray executive and investment
banker, and Paul Ostrow, a Minneapolis City Council member, say they are
confident that a stadium deal that includes some private financing and provides
some sort of "return" for public financing is doable.