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Tuesday, February 5
Updated: February 13, 2:38 PM ET
Selig says baseball will try again in 2003

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Unable to eliminate teams this season, Bud Selig sounded a familiar baseball cry Tuesday: Wait 'til next year!

Stung by a streak of legal losses, the commissioner backed down from folding the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos this season but vowed to shrink the major leagues by 2003.

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal to lift the injunction that forces the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome.

Tue., February 5
Two key points:

  • In 2003, baseball is not necessarily tied to contracting the Expos and Twins, although those teams remain the front-runners. While Montreal is certain to be part of any contraction plan, Minnesota could move itself out of the picture with a stadium deal, leaving baseball with some tough decisions in selecting a second team for contraction. The focus would move to Florida, but Jeffrey Loria just bought the Marlins, so that team probably is no longer a target and the Devil Rays have a long-term stadium lease. Oakland has been another team mentioned as a contraction possibility and the A's are on a year-to-year lease. But there are no indications the A's are being considered as a current contraction candidate.

  • The owners' postponement of contraction eliminates one of the union's two grievance points against the owners. The union had filed a grievance stating that baseball could not change the schedule -- to one based on 28 teams -- after the union had approved the 30-team schedule. That grievance no longer is relevant. The other grievance will be decided on the merits of whether owners have the right to contract unilaterally or whether it must be negotiated as part of the collective-bargaining agreement.
  • "I couldn't really rest in peace. Now I can," Twins outfielder Torii Hunter said. "It's the front office people who needed to know in case they had to find other jobs. And the beer vendors and other workers. It's sad that they could lose their jobs."

    Owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams but did not specify which ones. Their labor negotiators later told the players' association the Twins and Expos were targeted.

    Montreal, which joined the major leagues in 1969, is likely to exist for only more season. The Expos have drawn few fans in recent years and owner Jeffrey Loria is in the process of selling the franchise to the other teams for $120 million. Loria also is buying the Florida Marlins from John Henry for $158.5 million, and deals are likely to be approved by major league owners on Feb. 12.

    The commissioner's office will appoint someone to run the Expos this year and the team would then either be eliminated or moved, perhaps to Washington.

    But the attempt to eliminate the Twins could wind up resulting in government funding for a new ballpark in Minnesota, which would ensure the team's longterm survival. Selig could then turn to other candidates for contraction, such as Tampa Bay, Miami, Oakland and Anaheim.

    "While the clubs would have preferred to contract for 2002 and begin addressing the economic issues immediately, events outside of our direct control, including yesterday's court decision in Minnesota, have required us to move the date of contraction to 2003," Selig said.

    As recently as last week, Selig had vowed to press on, saying the elimination of teams was needed to stem industry losses, which he claims totaled hundreds of millions of dollars last year. His announcement came just nine days before the start of spring training.

    "Contraction was an initiative of the 30 clubs and continues to be wholly supported by that group," he said. "The clubs recognize that our current economic circumstance make contraction absolutely inevitable, as certain franchises simply cannot compete and cannot generate enough revenues to survive. Quite a few of our clubs advocate contraction by as many as four clubs."

    The players' association remains an obstacle to eliminating teams for 2003. The union filed a grievance to block contraction, claiming the owners' vote violated the players' labor contract, which expired Nov. 7 but remains in force. Arbitrator Shyam Das heard his 12th day of testimony in the case Tuesday, and the sides were to meet with the arbitrator Wednesday to determine how quickly to finish the case.

    "I, personally, had hoped that the union had an interest in helping us solve our economic and competitive balance problems," said Paul Beeston, baseball's chief operating officer. "It is evident now that they have no such interest and that is a great disappointment to me.

    I couldn't really rest in peace. Now I can.
    Twins outfielder Torii Hunter

    "We had several discussions this spring and summer indicating our consideration of contraction. The union's vigorous opposition to contraction was inconsistent with those earlier discussions."

    Owners claim they must bargain with the union only on the effects of contraction, such as player dispersal, not the decision to eliminate teams. The union was angered by Beeston's statement.

    "We are pleased that the 2002 season will proceed with 30 teams," union head Donald Fehr said. "However, it is regrettable that the clubs continue to assert that they can and will act unilaterally, rather than by negotiation and agreement."

    The primary road block to eliminating the Twins was their lease at the Metrodome, extended by the team in September through the 2002 season.

    The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, sued to force the Twins to honor their lease, and Hennepin County District Judge Harry Seymour Crump issued the injunction on Nov. 16. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the order Jan. 22 in a 3-0 vote.

    "It just puts a finality to all of this for now. It's what we were hoping for with spring training just around the corner," Twins GM Terry Ryan said from his Metrodome office. "I'll tell you, there are a lot of smiles in this building today, on a lot of people.

    "It just means it's done for the 2002 season, and we know in 2003 it's still a possibility," he said. "That puts a sense of urgency on us, that we have to put together a club in spring training that will be competitive again this season."

    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.

    The attempt to eliminate teams generated political opposition. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Feb. 13 on legislation to remove baseball's antitrust exemption as it applies to franchise folding or relocation.

    "I commend the commissioner for his belated realization that eliminating major league baseball teams this year would be a disaster for the game and a disservice to the fans. This move gives us a cooling off period," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.

    "There is no doubt that this was the result of grassroots opposition from baseball fans, communities, players and the American public," said Sen. Paul D. Wellstone, D-Minn. "The battle is far from over because today's decision only grants us a one-year reprieve."

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