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Ventura goes to mat vs. big leagues
by Aron Kahn, Patrick Sweeney and Charley Walters

Gov. Jesse Ventura slammed the baseball world on national television Monday, arguing that if the Minnesota Twins are thrown out of the major leagues because of the game's economic imbalance, no team will be secure.

In a related development, a source said baseball owners might meet next week in Chicago to review plans to eliminate two teams before the start of next season. However, Major League Baseball spokesman Rich Levin said he knows of no such meeting.

It's unclear what would occur at such a meeting. There is a chance Commissioner Bud Selig could reveal baseball's contraction choices, which are thought to be the Twins and Montreal Expos. There is also a chance Selig could announce that there are so many hurdles that contraction cannot be completed before next season. Twins owner Carl Pohlad, who has not fought the possible elimination of his franchise, could have an opportunity at the meeting to request a delay of contraction. The owners have a scheduled meeting Dec. 9-14 in Boston.

Also, the Twins and Major League Baseball filed notice of their intent to appeal a temporary injunction against a Twins ouster, and former Twins stars Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven and Kent Hrbek were scheduled to testify today at a state hearing on stadium funding.

"If they get rid of the Minnesota Twins, then there's no team in baseball that will be safe, without baseball fixing itself,'' Ventura said in an interview on ESPN.

Ventura had harsh words for baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, the voice of doom when announcing Nov. 6 that two teams would be eliminated.

When interviewer Chris Connolly recalled a published remark by Selig that Minnesotans should look into the mirror when searching for the cause of the Twins' problems, Ventura said:

"I think Bud should look in the mirror. He's been saying for five years . . . that he's going to fix baseball, and I've seen him do nothing to fix baseball.''

Until Friday, Ventura virtually sat on the bench while other government and business leaders decried the announcement of "contraction,'' baseball's word for trimming its number of teams. Then, after meeting with some of those leaders Friday, Ventura told a gathering of reporters outside his office that he'd be an active voice of protest.

Ventura rarely gives individual interviews with the local news media, however. He declined interview requests Monday from the Pioneer Press and at least three other Twin Cities media organizations, Ventura spokesman John Wodele said.

The governor offers that time instead to reporters from national publications and networks, who often view Ventura as a celebrity and are not as familiar with Minnesota issues. They were eager to hear from him Monday. He appeared twice on ESPN and gave interviews to a New York Times columnist and national baseball writers for USA Today and the Associated Press.

"The message I want the world to hear out there is that getting rid of the Minnesota Twins is not going to solve baseball's problems,'' Ventura said in the interview with Connolly.

"Baseball will continue to have mega-problems. They need to solve (them) at the top echelon, get their house in order so that teams can be viable and competitive, otherwise I can't see a bright future for baseball at all five or 10 years down the road from now,'' he said.

As an example of baseball's economic problems, Ventura cited a recent player's contract. "More power to Andruw Jones down in Atlanta, but when a .250 outfielder can sign a contract for $75 million, I think something is wrong at the top level of baseball that needs to be fixed.''

Jones, whose $75 million contract is for six years, batted .251 last season with 34 home runs and a team-high 104 runs batted in.

While chastising baseball and contending the Metrodome is still a good facility, the governor asked baseball's leadership to give Minnesota time to figure out how to build a new ballpark.

"I think it can be accomplished in the private sector,'' he said. "It will just take some time to do that and to put together the package, and what we're simply asking for is to give us a one-year extention. Let the Twins continue to play, fulfill their lease at the Metrodome and give us a year to work it out.''

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball and the Twins are seeking a speeded-up appeals process in which the state Supreme Court would hear an important legal matter without waiting for the state Court of Appeals to review it first.

On Friday, Hennepin County District Judge Harry Crump ordered the Twins to comply with the team's one-year Metrodome lease and play the full 2002 season there. Crump also barred baseball from any buyout of the Twins that would not require the team to play in the Metrodome next season. The temporary injunction was sought by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns the Metrodome.

Today, an 18-member task force appointed by Ventura and legislative leaders will begin a series of hearings on funding for new stadiums for the Twins, the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota football team. Today's hearing, at which the former Twins stars will testify, starts at 1 p.m. in Room 10 of the State Office Building.

Task force members also are scheduled to hear a presentation from Deputy Attorney General Al Gilbert on legal efforts to keep the Twins from folding.

Also, two Democratic legislators who have long advocated community ownership of the Twins -- state Sen. Ellen Anderson of St. Paul and Rep. Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis -- are scheduled to hold a news conference today. Kahn said Monday they will propose reviving a 1999 bill that would create a mechanism for Twins owner Carl Pohlad to donate or sell the team to a nonprofit foundation.