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Court's action all but kills contraction

Twins rebirth

Posted: Tuesday, February 05, 2002

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota's Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal of an injunction that forces the Twins to fulfill their Metrodome lease, all but killing baseball's contraction plan for this season.

The high court's action Monday 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 will take the field for their 42nd season in Minnesota. Their season opener is April 1 at Kansas City and their home opener is April 12 against Detroit.

''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 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.''

But at the Metrodome, Twins employees celebrated, realizing the threat of elimination had vanished for now.

''It was a great moment to see our employees sharing in the joy,'' said Dave St. Peter, the team's executive vice president of business affairs. ''People left knowing they could go home and not be faced with contraction again, at least for the short term.''

Players had worried for much of the winter.

''Hopefully this gives the guys a sense of security to go out and play baseball,'' infielder Denny Hocking said. ''We all wanted to play in Minnesota again. We have a very good possibility of having success this year.''

While Selig didn't admit defeat, union head Donald Fehr thought Monday's decision will keep the major leagues at 30 teams this year. The union filed a grievance to block contraction, which has slowed labor talks.

''Obviously, we are very pleased that the matter in Minnesota appears to have been resolved for 2002, which is good news for the fans,'' he said. ''We can now look forward to spring training and the continuation of the collective bargaining process.''

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 Montreal 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.

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

Management negotiators Rob Manfred and Paul Beeston told the players' association in late January that the Twins and the 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 ranked 29th and 30th in revenue last year, and both have failed to obtain government financing for new ballparks. Twins owner Carl Pohlad, frustrated at the failure of stadium proposals, appeared willing to have the franchise folded.

The Twins' landlord, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, sued following the owners' vote to force the team to honor its 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 in a 3-0 decision, ruling 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 ruling is ''the ultimate nail in the coffin'' of contraction, MSFC executive director Bill Lester said.

Contraction has been further complicated by baseball's ownership changes.

A group headed by Florida Marlins owner John Henry was given approval Jan. 16 to buy the Boston Red Sox for $660 million from the Jean R. Yawkey Trust.

Henry is negotiating to sell the Marlins to Expos owner Jeffrey Loria for $158.5 million and Loria is negotiating to sell the Expos to the remaining 29 teams for $120 million.

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

Loria intends to bring much of his Expos' staff to Florida, including manager Jeff Torborg, interim general manager Larry Beinfest and executive vice president David Samson -- who was in Florida on Monday to visit the Marlins' facilities.

Frank Robinson, the vice president in charge of discipline in the commissioner's office, is expected to become manager of the Expos.

The Minnesota Supreme Court decision appears to partially moot the grievance by the players' association, which claims the contraction vote violated its labor contract, which expired Nov. 7 but remains in force. Arbitrator Shyam Das has heard 11 days of testimony and is due to resume the hearing Tuesday in New York.

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

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



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