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Wednesday, November 14
 
Fans write in: Keep the Twins

By John Sickels
Special to ESPN.com

My column about the potential demise of the Minnesota Twins generated over 300 email responses. With two exceptions, everyone agreed that killing the Twins was a crime against baseball, an egregious and unnecessary assault on the integrity and history of the sport. The sole exceptions were a reader who, while agreeing that the death of the Twins was regrettable, asked me to present a plan of action for Twins fans, rather than just complaining about the situation. I'll address that point in a moment. The other letter presented the owners' arguments, which of course I disagree with, though the letter was respectful and sympathetic.

I wanted to share some of the letters with you, as a form of "Twins Fans Speak Out." Mailbag will return to its normal format next week, and from now on we'll deal with contraction only as it impacts (or is impacted by) the minor leagues. But for today, let's listen to some people who are about to have their hearts broken.

I want to thank everyone who wrote in. Many of the letters brought tears to my eyes. I'm sorry I couldn't respond to each one personally.

Kevin S. wrote:

John, you expressed my sentiments exactly on the Twins contraction. My uncle took me to my first Twins game in the summer of '65. Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison hit back-to-back home runs that night. I floated all the way to the car.

I suffered through the lean years in Met Stadium. I did see Dave Goltz outduel Nolan Ryan just before I left the Twin Cities to go into the Air Force. I have both '87 and '91 Homer Hankies.

I agree, moving the Twins would still mean that the Twins live. Killing them is hard to imagine. I now live in Omaha. One of the main reasons I head back north each summer is to take in a Twins game. Maybe I will have to go somewhere else now. I cannot become a Cubs fan, I cannot become a Royals Fan -- I am a Twins Fan. I cried in front of the black and white TV when Sandy Koufax beat the Twins in '65. I cried tears of joy when Hrbek hit the grand slam in Game 6 of '87. My heart was in my throat when the Braves loaded the bases with one out in the top of the eighth in Game 7 in '91.

This year I dreamed of glory. It didn't happen but I didn't care, the Twins were competitive. Now they are history.

John Sickels says: They aren't history just yet. I have a theory about what may be going on behind the scenes, and I'll deal with that in a moment.

Charlie A. writes:

John: I want to thank you and all the other columnists out there for your seemingly unified bashing of Carl Pohlad, Bud Selig and the owners of our Major League Baseball franchises.

As I lifelong Twins fan (I was 7 years old in 1987), I can attest to the incredible impact this team has had on my life. They made me love baseball, they made me play baseball. When I was child, nothing was more satisfying than mimicking a Kirby Puckett over-the-fence, home run-saving catch. I wore my Twins hat everywhere.

During the down years, after Andy MacPhail left, I still cherished watching the worst team in baseball. I got to see hometown hero Dave Winfield get his 3,000th hit off Dennis Eckersley.

A few years later, Pohlad began the push for a new stadium as he slashed payroll simutaneously. I wondered where the fans had gone. Would a new stadium cure our mid-market problems?

This season proved that line of thinking wrong. Put a solid, exciting team on the field, and fans will return in droves. Nobody wants to watch a Pat Meares-Orlando Merced-led squad stink it up for three hours. At least not when beers are $5 a pop.

And so now, when all the excitement is back, Mr. Pohlad -- as Dan Barrerio of the Star Tribune dreams up -- sits alone in his castle with his cashier's check.

I know of only 28 people in this entire country who favor getting rid of the Twins. And somehow that is enough.

John Sickels says: Charlie, you're making a great point here. The team is on the rise, and could very well be favorites to win the division next year. Again, more on that below.

Colby C. writes:

John: Thank you for writing about contraction from the viewpoint of an informed fan with something at stake. There has been some great writing on this issue already from guys like Jim Caple, but as an Expos fan I was glad to see somebody come at this from the viewpoint of one whose own ox is on the altar, ready to be gored. You got it exactly right when you pointed out that contraction is totally different from allowing a franchise to pull up stakes and move.

Not the smallest part of the agony here, as you well understand, is the possibility of losing the continuity of our teams' history. God willing, they will at least put Gary Carter and Tim Raines in the Hall of Fame someday. But who will be left to remember great (and I mean great as in at-their-best-as-good-as-anyone) second-tier players like Steve Rogers and Dennis Martinez? I'm sure your brain is flooded with examples from Minnesota's legendary baseball history.

I want to express my sympathy here because I'm in a position to know how you feel and because I understand that the absurdity and the outrage of it is even worse in the case of the Twins.

John Sickels says: While most of the attention has been focused on the Twins, it is important to think about the Expos and their fans as well. The financial situation in Montreal may be hopeless, at least under current ownership, but why kill the franchise and its history when viable options exist for relocation? Let's not forget about the thousands of loyal Expos fans and employees, who are suffering as much as anyone.

Annette G. writes:

Your column on ESPN.com brought tears to my eyes. I can't imagine how I would feel if my beloved Yankees were being talked about like a bad sitcom in need of cancellation. And the truly sick, sick thing is that the Twins are a wonderful team! I was rooting for them to win the Central this year and the '91 Series against the Braves is hands down the best World Series of this generation. I can't believe people were comparing this year's Series to that one -- and I'm not just saying that because of the outcome!

How twisted is it to induct Kirby Puckett into the Hall of Fame and then six months later talk about erasing his team? Every baseball fan must fight this horrible injustice.

John Sickels says: Thanks, Annette. I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of messages I got from people who aren't Twins fans, but rather general baseball fans or fans who specifically love other teams. Heck, even a few people who told me they hate the Twins are outraged at the prospect of their death. I think the Powers that Be may have underestimated how baseball fans are reacting to this. At least I hope so.

OK, here's how I think this is going to play out.

With the facts we have at hand, I think there are two possible scenarios:

1) The owners are complete morons and truly believe they can smoothly contract by December 15, despite numerous obstacles. If they think they can get contraction plan past the union and the MLBPA's killer legal team without an ugly labor war, Don Fehr will soon prove them wrong. If they think they can do this without alienating powerful forces on Congress and putting the antitrust exemption in jeopardy, they are sadly mistaken. Remember, more than just the Twins and Expos are at stake. Lots of minor-league teams will eventually be affected, too, and that will not go down well with a lot of people.

Or ...

2) The Owners, while greedy and short-sighted, are not complete morons, and there is more to the plan than meets the eye. Under this scenario, they expect to lose the grievance to the union, thus putting off contraction for at least a year. However, in broaching the subject so strongly, they've put Minnesota on notice that a stadium bill must pass soon, under threat of losing the franchise. They've also made the point to the union that a stronger drag on salaries will be needed. As for the Expos, they can move to D.C. once a stadium plan is put in place there. Angelos can be bought off. In other words, the contraction threat is a combination of heavy-duty blackmail for the host cities, as well as a hammer to hit labor. Under this scenario, contraction is essentially a giant bluff, which leads to the question, what happens if the bluff is called?

I think scenario two is most likely, with one caveat: the owners are willing to have their bluff called. They are willing to contract Montreal and Minnesota, if they somehow manage to win the grievance, or convince the union to go along. But the fact that they've gone out of their way to alienate the MLBPA makes the latter unlikely. So it all boils down to the courts.

If the arbitrator rules that contraction must be bargained, then expect the Twins and Expos to play in 2002, and probably survive beyond that in some form or another. 2002 will be played under a dark labor cloud, but the owners don't seem to have the stomach for a lockout, and I doubt the players will want to strike. So it's the status quo while a new deal is negotiated, perhaps including contraction, but with the owners having "made their point" about the state of certain franchises and the economics of the game as a whole.

If the arbitrator rules that the owners can unilaterally contract, then say goodbye to the Twins and Expos. Either way, the owners could view it as a victory. At least that's what they think.

This is the critical point: The events of September 11 made a lockout politically impossible. But the owners are, by nature, unable to go into a labor negotiation without a "hammer" to use against the players. The threat of contraction replaces the threat of the lockout they normally use. They have to make the threat seem as real as possible, and they have to be willing to go through with it if need be. But contraction isn't a foregone conclusion, and it isn't the way they really want things to develop.

I don't know if that is correct or not, but I think it fits the available facts better than scenario one.

As for what the average fan can do, let your voices be heard. Contact your senators and congressmen, via telephone, email, or snail mail (or all three). If you live in Minnesota, contact your local reps in state government as well. Write letters to the editor. Bombard the commissioner's office with your opinions, though make sure to express it reasonably and rationally.

Of course, lots of people are already doing that, and such tactics are only marginally effective. We should still do them. But here's the best tactic of all for Twins fans: assuming they play next year, go to the games. Go to lots and lots of Twins games. Make sure the Powers that Be understand that Minneapolis is a viable baseball market. And if the Twins are in a pennant race, as seems likely should they get a bit more hitting, things could get real interesting.

Let's make it the "Major League" scenario, a franchise literally fighting for its life. Let's help get the Twins to the playoffs. Enthusiasm, people. Let the players know you love them.

The Metrodome is an intimidating place when the fans are in the game, and the home team feeds off that. Re-create the atmosphere of 1987 and 1991. Could you imagine the Lords of Baseball contracting a team that reaches the postseason? The political problems of doing so would likely be insurmountable. They might try it anyway, but let's make it as hard for them as possible.

They may take our team, but let's go down fighting.

John Sickels is the author of the 2001 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com, or you can visit his homepage at hometown.aol.com/jasickels/page1.html.






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