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Monday, February 4
Minnesota high court won't hear MLB's appeal

Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Baseball owners are 0-for-3 in Minnesota's courts, virtually ensuring that the Twins and Montreal Expos will play this year.

The move to eliminate two teams is all but dead after the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal of an injunction that forces the Twins to play next year.

Monday's action means an injunction issued by a Hennepin County judge in November will stand -- barring intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is unlikely.

Unless there is a strike or a lockout, the Twins are almost certain to take the field for their 42nd season in Minnesota. Their opener is April 1 at Kansas City.

"Hopefully, this give the guys a sense of security to go out and play baseball," infielder Denny Hocking said.

The ruling is "the ultimate nail in the coffin" of baseball's effort to eliminate the Twins in 2002, said Bill Lester, executive director of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which sued to enforce the team's lease at the Metrodome.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig did not return telephone calls seeking comment, and Selig's spokesman, Rich Levin, said baseball was reviewing the decision. Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations in the commissioner's office, said before the sport makes a decision on how to proceed, "it's going to have to be discussed by the lawyers."

"We've anticipated for the last month or so that we would be playing," Twins president Jerry Bell said. "We have a good team, we had a good year last year, and we expect to have a good year this year."

Baseball owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams without specifying which ones.

Two management negotiators told the players' association in late January that the Twins and the Montreal Expos were the only candidates for elimination this season, according to two people who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The Twins and Expos rank 29th and 30th in revenue last year, and both have failed to obtain government financing for new ballparks.

The MSFC sued to force the Twins to honor their lease, which expires after the 2002 season. On Nov. 16, Hennepin County District Judge Harry Seymour Crump issued the injunction.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the order Jan. 22, ruling in a 3-0 decision that Crump did not abuse his discretion in issuing the injunction.

Selig said then he still thought he could go forward with the plan to eliminate teams before opening day, but Monday's ruling appeared to end his options.

The battle over the future of the Twins shifts back to the Minnesota Legislature, which is reviewing proposals for a new stadium that could ensure the team's long-term survival.

Republican Rep. Harry Mares, a stadium bill sponsor, said the pressure is on lawmakers.

"Either we act this session or I believe you'll still see contraction next year," he said.

Alabama businessman Donald Watkins has begun talks to acquire the team from Carl Pohlad, who bought the franchise in 1984 to keep it from moving.

Meanwhile Monday, baseball owners moved forward with plans to meet Feb. 12 in the Chicago area -- two days before the start of spring training -- to approve the contemplated sales of the Expos and Florida Marlins.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on baseball's antitrust exemption the following day, a spokesman for committee chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said Monday.

Unable to eliminate the Expos, Selig intends to have the commissioner's office appoint a chief executive officer-general manager to run the team this season.

Monday's court decision appears to partially render moot the grievance by the players' association to stop contraction, which it says violated the labor contract, which expired Nov. 7 but remains in force. Arbitrator Shyam Das has heard 11 days of testimony and was due to resume the hearing Tuesday in New York.

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