(May 8, 1998 - 7:20 EDT) -- There was a ballpark referendum in North
Carolina's Triad region on Tuesday. The "yes" campaign wound
up with 37 percent of the votes, a slightly higher percentage than John
Marty received in Minnesota's 1994 gubernatorial election. The result guarantees
that the Minnesota Twins will not be transformed into the Carolina Triplets
at the end of the 1998 season.
This also comes close to guaranteeing that the Twins will be playing
in the Metrodome for several more seasons. Forget Charlotte. Clark Griffith,
the man who would like to be managing partner of a new Twins ownership
group, offered an accurate assessment of the North Carolina situation Wednesday.
"This was such a resounding defeat -- this was so huge -- that
Hugh McColl heard the message in Charlotte, I'm sure," Griffith said.
"The plan in Charlotte is to build a privately financed stadium. Enormous
public acceptance would be required -- to buy tickets and personal seat
licenses -- to do that. That public acceptance isn't there in North Carolina,
as seen by this overwhelming vote against major league baseball."
McColl is the chief executive officer of NationsBank. A few years back,
McColl told Bud Selig -- the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and baseball's
acting commissioner -- that he could get a stadium built in Charlotte,
if the Brewers could not get a new ballpark in Milwaukee. McColl would
have to be the guy to make it happen for the Twins, if owner Carl Pohlad
wanted to take in Don Beaver as a partner and move into a new stadium in
McColl has sounded lukewarm on the subject lately. He has had larger
matters to dwell on -- executing NationsBank's mega-merger with BankAmerica.
Pohlad's letter of intent to sell to Beaver expired on March 31. "Carl's
agreement with Beaver has not been renewed," Griffith said. "He's
free to talk to local buyers -- has been free for more than a month. I've
talked to some of his people. My offer is there, but I'm not going to be
bidding against myself."
Griffith announced during the middle of last fall's stadium debate that
he raised his offer to $90 million to buy the Twins from Pohlad. With expansion
teams going for $140 million, this was far below market value for a big-league
franchise, but also more than a franchise operating for the long term in
the Metrodome would be worth.
Pohlad has been a difficult gentleman to analyze. This does not prevent
us from trying. One guess for Pohlad not seriously discussing a sale with
Griffith has been this: Carl did not want to unload this money-loser at
a bargain price, then have the politicians turn around and build a ballpark
for a new owner.
"There were many Minnesota politicians sipping their coffee this
morning, reading the newspaper and laughing," Griffith said. "They
will be saying, 'We told you that people all over the country are turning
their backs on taxpayer-subsidized stadiums.'
"I read the newspapers. I listen to the radio and watch television.
If my group was to get the team and I started talking about needing a new
stadium, I would be just another target.
"I have no magic solution for that (stadium) problem, and I never
did. I'm totally focused on playing in the Metrodome. Even in there, when
you compare the Twin Cities to any other available market -- not just North
Carolina, but any available market -- this beats 'em by a ton."
This is the market of which Clark boasts: The Twins have the cheapest
tickets in big-league baseball, yet will sell fewer than 1 million this
season and outdo Montreal and Oakland for the worst attendance in the big
leagues. The Twins will collect an estimated $4.5 million in local radio-TV
revenue, also at the bottom of the earnings list.
Those are numbers that could be bested in a Triad of Mayberry, Hooterville
The Twins won the World Series with a $26 million payroll in 1991 --
a payroll large enough to compete and small enough to be handled by more
than 2 million people buying cheap tickets to watch baseball in the Metrodome.
Seven years later, the Twins have a $28 million payroll -- $20 million
shy of the minimum payroll needed to compete.
A winning team that sold 2.3 million tickets (the Twins' average from
1987 through 1993) could not come close to sustaining a $48 million payroll
while playing in the Metrodome.
So Smilin' Carl keeps the payroll in the same neighborhood he always
has had it, and the Twins lose, and attendance falls, and North Carolina
appears to be a dead issue, and the Minnesota politicians are cackling,
so now what?
If Pohlad does not sell and is forced to operate in the Metrodome, he
has one option: studio baseball. That's what team president Jerry Bell
termed it last year. You play the games for the sake of playing the games
-- for the sake of maintaining major league baseball in a city and nothing
How do you become officially a studio ballclub?
Bob Tewksbury, Mike Morgan, Orlando Merced and Pat Meares are traded
before July 31. Savings: $5.5 million. Paul Molitor, Otis Nixon, Rick Aguilera
and Terry Steinbach are gone at season's end. Savings: $11 million. Come
the offseason, Brad Radke is traded for prospects. Savings: $2.5 million.
Nine players making $19 million are gone, replaced by nine inexperienced
players making $2 million. The payroll is down to $11 million.
Play ball. Studio ball.