Twins President Jerry Bell lunched with corporate sponsors, and general
manager Terry Ryan made the rounds at baseball's winter meetings in Boston on
Thursday, both hoping to hear that contraction had been postponed for a year.
But by day's end, the team's fate was back in the hands of the Minnesota
courts and baseball's arbitrator.
Negotiations between lawyers for baseball's owners and the Major League
Players Association that would have postponed the elimination of two teams until
after the 2002 season broke down, leaving the Twins in limbo again and the
owners and players at odds.
After the talks ended, a hearing before independent arbitrator Shyam Das
resumed in New York over the union's previously filed grievance over the
"We wanted them to acknowledge that we have the right to contract,"
said Rob Manfred, the owners' top labor lawyer. "They just got too narrow.
We felt they were limiting our rights as to when and how we can contract. We
felt we were better off litigating the issue."
Paul Beeston, baseball's chief operating officer, said: "We will
continue with our plans to contract two clubs for the 2002 season and resume
negotiations with the Players Association on the effects of contraction."
The sides were reportedly close to an agreement Monday, but Thursday
afternoon the Players Association's executive director, Don Fehr, issued a
statement lambasting Manfred and the owners for their tactics. "All of this
is regrettable," Fehr said in the statement.
Baseball's plan is to eliminate two teams, most likely the Twins and Montreal
Expos. The Players Association hopes to stall contraction for a year and
negotiate the effects of the plan, including the nature of a dispersal draft of
players from the eliminated teams.
"From a player's standpoint, I'm sick of hearing that they're going to
do something and they don't, and hearing that they'll settle and they
won't," said Twins infielder Denny Hocking, the team's union
representative. "I think somebody needs to step up to the plate sometime
soon and figure out what's going on. If we're going to let this thing get solved
in the court, let's do it."
Last week, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig argued before a House Judiciary
Committee that baseball lost $519 million last year, although the figures reveal
only $232 million of operating losses before interest payments and depreciation.
He also said he hoped to make a final decision on contraction soon.
Said Bell: "We speculated, as everyone else did, that this would
probably be completed this week, and now it doesn't appear that way, because
they've resumed the arbitration hearings. I wish I could tell you what was going
to happen, but I can't."
He said his lunch with the Twins' corporate sponsors "went great. Then
we came out of lunch and heard this. ... "
Fehr apparently had the same reaction upon reading Manfred's quotes
characterizing the negotiations. In the statement, he said, in part, "The
structure of the proposed agreement was always that the clubs would not contract
for 2002, and that if the clubs wished to pursue contraction for 2003, they
would do so based on an agreed upon timetable consistent with the Basic
"In return, the Players Association agreed that if these procedures were
followed, the Players Association would forgo certain legal arguments it might
have to stop contraction in 2003, while reserving others.
"These settlement discussions broke down last night, when the clubs
introduced two new demands: (1) That if the clubs, after having decided which
two clubs they would contract in 2003, were unable to contract in 2003, the
clubs could attempt to contract in 2004 and switch the identity of the clubs to
be contracted, while the restrictions upon the Players Association remained in
place; and (2) That certain parts of the Settlement Agreement remain
Fehr said that when discussions broke off Wednesday night, the owners' legal
counsel asked the Players Association to refrain from disclosing the reasons for
the impasse. Fehr said the union honored that request. Then he blasted Manfred
for going public.
Manfred objected to the union's assertion that talks failed because baseball
changed its demands.
"It's wrong to characterize it as our fault because we raised new
issues," he said. "Both sides raised new issues throughout the
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who has sponsored a bill to repeal part of
baseball's antitrust exemption, criticized owners for demanding secrecy during
"This indicates to me that the owners' principal interest is in being
able to enter into backroom deals outside of public and congressional
scrutiny," he said.
Manfred disagreed with Fehr and Conyers on the issue of secrecy.
"This secrecy thing is an effort to create an appearance of something
untoward when there absolutely was none," Manfred said. "We had a very
legitimate business reason to propose confidentiality in response to the
structure that they proposed."
The lawyers will decide
Thursday's developments mean that baseball's ability to pursue contraction
this off-season will be determined by the Minnesota Court of Appeals and
baseball's arbitrator, Das.
In November, Hennepin County District Judge Harry Crump issued an injunction
forcing the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome by playing major
league games there, ruling that the team was not allowed to disband.
Baseball's lawyers failed to get an accelerated review by Minnesota's Supreme
Court, and the injunction remains in force until at least Dec. 27, when the
Minnesota Court of Appeals holds a hearing.
Das postponed hearing the Players Association's grievance over contraction
while the owners and the union negotiated this week. Thursday, owners began
their cross-examination of Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official, who opened the
hearing last week with two days of testimony before Das in Irving, Texas.
Selig has led the owners' campaign to change the financial structure of the
game. His hard-line stance has opened the possibility that the 2002 season won't
begin on time. Baseball's collective bargaining agreement with the players
expired in November, and since 1972, baseball has failed to avoid a work
stoppage each of the previous eight times the bargaining agreement has expired.
"Basically, enough time has been wasted this year on these issues,"
Hocking said. "Spring training is coming up fast, and they better figure
out what they're going to do."
The Twins won 85 games last year, breaking a franchise-record streak of eight
straight losing seasons. Hocking referred to Selig's calling the Twins'
on-the-field success "an aberration."
"You know, with the potential this team has for next year, and the fun
this team can have next year, maybe Bud doesn't want to see the smiles on the
faces of a so-called aberration again next year," Hocking said.
Meanwhile, Ryan denied a rumor that baseball officials had told him not to
make any moves this week. He admitted that he had difficulty making progress
with free agents or trades because of the team's status.
"I haven't had much action here, but it's not because of any
restrictions," he said. "I think people are still staying away from us
because of all this, but it's not for a lack of trying on our part."