Despite an intensifying legal and political storm on the horizon, Major League
Baseball owners are forging ahead with plans to eliminate two teams when they
convene in Chicago Tuesday for an impromptu meeting that has an angry group of
Twins still reading tea leaves for clues to their future.
Although contraction will dominate the agenda, owners also might vote on a
contract extension for Commissioner Bud Selig, who remains committed to axing
two teams -- widely reported to be the Twins and the Montreal Expos -- by
mid-December in the face of festering opposition by the Players Association.
"I'm glad to see that at a time when the commissioner is dropping a
contraction bomb on everybody, they're still going to find time to work on his
deal," Twins player representative Denny Hocking said Saturday. "I
wish we all had that kind of job security right now."
The Miami Herald, citing unidentified baseball sources, is reporting today
that owners plan to push ahead with contraction despite a growing list of
A Hennepin County judge already has ordered the Twins to honor their lease
and play the 2002 season at the Metrodome. The Twins have appealed Judge Harry
Crump's injunction. The team and their landlord, the Metrodome Stadium
Authority, have until Wednesday to file arguments before the Minnesota Supreme
Congress has scheduled early December hearings to determine whether to strip
MLB of the antitrust exemption that allows it to operate as a monopoly and free
from legislative scrutiny.
The Players Association has filed a grievance, although lawyers for the union
and the owners still are squabbling over a hearing date for baseball arbitrator
Shyam Das to determine whether contraction is legal under the expired collective
The unresolved issues could turn into a three-pronged headache for the
owners, who are meeting to figure out a way to shutter two franchises, disperse
up to 80 players and release a new schedule -- all with spring training looming
in less than three months.
Although lawyers for both sides have discussed contraction details, nothing
has been completed. Last week, the New York Times reported that the owners'
latest proposal did not include roster expansions to absorb the unemployed
players, which angered Hocking.
"That's not what we were told two weeks ago," he said.
Union officials are taking the threat seriously and preparing for a fight,
even though they're not sure what kind.
"I have no idea what they're planning to do in Chicago, but I've taken
them for their word about contraction from the beginning," said Donald Fehr,
executive director of the Players Association.
Meanwhile, newspapers in South Florida reported this week that MLB was
working on a contraction scenario in which Expos owner Jeffrey Loria would be
bought out by other owners, with Montreal then being owned and operated by MLB
for a lame-duck 2002 season if the aforementioned challenges make contraction
impossible by the start of the season.
That would free Loria to continue negotiations with John Henry to purchase
the Florida Marlins. Loria and Henry may be near completion of a deal, according
to the same South Florida reports.
ng proposal similar to the one he and Kelly plan to further detail next
week. A new stadium in St. Paul would not solve all the economic problems of the
Twins, Coleman said. But without a new ballpark, the team would not survive long
enough to benefit from any eventual restructuring of the baseball industry, he
One of three potential downtown St. Paul stadium sites is diagonally across
West Seventh Street from the Xcel Energy Center hockey arena. The other sites
are across the Mississippi River from downtown, and in Lowertown near the
Kelly pointed out that Minneapolis officials face a $10 million limit on city
spending for a ballpark, making a ballpark effort more difficult there. "A
lot of people are looking to St. Paul for a possible solution," he said.
Coleman and Kelly said their proposal would require the Twins or other
private sources to contribute half the cost of a $325 million to $350 million
The state or the Metropolitan Council would borrow the remaining money
through the sale of bonds, Coleman said. Then the city would repay the bonds
from the proposed 3 percent tax on bar and restaurant sales, and receipts from
city parking lots during games.
Coleman said he didn't know how much money either revenue source would
produce, but he would obtain estimates by next week.
Neither did he know whether any stadium plan would persuade baseball owners,
who voted Nov. 6 to fold two baseball franchises, to keep the Twins in
"I don't know if it's wasted energy," Coleman said.
Twins President Jerry Bell said Wednesday he met with St. Paul leaders
recently but did not learn a lot about the proposal. "If they send it to
us, we'll look at it," he said.
Coleman's 1999 stadium proposal was dependent on the departure of Twins owner
Carl Pohlad, because Coleman believed the Twins owner's fading popularity would
burden the ballpark campaign. Pohlad agreed to sell the team to Glen Taylor,
principal owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Robert Naegele Jr., lead
owner of the Minnesota Wild. The new proposal might not require an ownership
change, Kelly said.
Coleman said the latest proposal probably would have to be approved by
voters. Kelly did not commit to putting the measure on the ballot. Both men said
the proposal probably would be contingent on baseball owners improving the
long-term business prospects of small- and medium-market teams through increased
revenue sharing and perhaps a salary cap.
As of Wednesday, neither Kelly nor Coleman had presented their proposal to
council members, other than Chris Coleman, who represents the downtown area. In
interviews, three council members expressed reservations about the proposal.
"We didn't want to raise taxes to fully fund libraries or fix rec center
roofs," council member Kathy Lantry said. "Why should we raise taxes
for a ball stadium?" However, Lantry said she might feel differently if
baseball instituted economic reforms.
Council member Jerry Blakey said a downtown ballpark would be great, but he
won't support public money for it without Major League Baseball reforms.
Council member Jim Reiter said he needed more details but was against a
similar pitch earlier this year.
Chris Coleman said voters should decide whether the city should support a new
"We gave them a chance to take a look at this a couple of years ago, and
they said no," he said. "But a couple of things have changed since
that vote. One is the success of the Wild, and the other is that it's pretty
clear that if nothing is done, the Twins are gone."
Council President Don Bostrom was sympathetic. "This is a chance to say,
"Don't let the Twins leave town without the chance for the city of St. Paul
to talk about this.' "