Major League owners vote to nix two unidentified teams

Contraction?

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Two cities will not have baseball teams next season, if owners get their way, and players will not be locked out when the labor agreement expires Wednesday.

The owners made those decisions during a 3 1/2-hour meeting Tuesday.

They would not specify which cities would be cut, a person familiar with the meetings said. He spoke on the condition he not be identified. The vote was 28-2, with the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos opposing contraction.

Montreal, Minnesota and the Florida Marlins recently have been mentioned as the likeliest candidates, while Oakland and Tampa Bay were discussed earlier this year.

''It makes no sense for major league baseball to be in markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise,'' commissioner Bud Selig said. ''The teams to be contracted have a long record of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable major league franchise.''

Baseball's decision reverses nearly a half-century of expansion during which the major leagues grew from 16 teams in 1960 to 30 since 1998, when Arizona and Tampa Bay were added. The amount of money that would be paid to the eliminated teams was not discussed during the meeting.

This would be the first contraction by major league baseball since the National League shrank from 12 teams to eight following the 1899 season. No major league team has moved since the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1972.

The action by the owners came two days after the World Series culminated in Arizona's thrilling Game 7 victory over the New York Yankees, baseball's most-watched game in 10 years.

The players' association called the decision ''most imprudent and unfortunate.''

''Over this last season, and, especially, over the last several weeks, we have been reminded, vividly, of the special place baseball holds in America,'' union head Donald Fehr said. ''This makes it all the more unfortunate that the clubs would choose this moment to dash the hopes of so many of its fans.

''And, of course, this is the worst manner in which to begin the process of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. We had hoped that we were in a new era, one that would see a much better relationship between players and owners. Today's announcement is a severe blow to such hopes.''

In addition to not locking out players, owners said they wouldn't freeze player signings when the labor pact expires Wednesday. Two teams advocated an immediate lockout, the person familiar with the meeting said, but Selig told teams he would not support one.

Baseball has undergone eight work stoppages since 1972, including a 232-day strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series, and some owners are pressing for concessions from the players' association, which could trigger another stoppage.

The union could become an obstacle by fighting to protect the 80 major league roster spots on the two teams and the hundreds more in each minor league system.

Owners said they have the right to eliminate teams without the union but conceded they must negotiate the specifics of how to disperse the players on eliminated teams to the remaining 28 major leagues clubs. Selig declined to say if there was a chance teams wouldn't be eliminated before the new season starts.

''We have every intention of doing it,'' he said.

But Fehr said: ''This decision has been made unilaterally, without any attempt to negotiate with the players, apparently without any serious consideration of other options, including relocation, and seemingly with little concern for the interests of the fans.

''We consider this action to be inconsistent with the law, our contract, and perhaps most important, the long-term welfare of the sport,'' he said.

Montreal, which joined the NL in 1969, is considered the front-runner to be cut. The Expos averaged just 7,648 fans per game at Olympic Stadium this year and have locally generated revenue of about $16 million -- 8 percent of the Yankees' total of nearly $200 million. No progress has been made toward a new ballpark in Montreal and the team's owner, Jeffrey Loria, is a New York art dealer with few ties to Quebec.

Minnesota and Florida have failed to generate government support for new ballparks, and Twins owner Carl Pohlad has pushed Selig to eliminate his team in exchange for a large contraction payment, according to other owners, who spoke on condition they would not be identified.

Pohlad and Expos executive vice president David Samson attended the meeting but didn't make any substantive comments to reporters.

One of Pohlad's sons asked owners during the meeting whether contraction should wait until after a new labor agreement with the players, the person familiar with the meeting said. In addition, one of the owners' lawyers said during the meeting that moving ahead with contraction might make it more difficult to reach an agreement with the union.

Outfielder Dan Gladden, a member of the Twins' 1991 championship team and currently a broadcaster for the team, predicted Minnesota will remain in the major leagues.

''Without a doubt, they'll play,'' he said. ''I don't think we're any closer to contracting than when the day started.''

Owners also have discussed various scenarios in which the owners of Florida and Montreal would take over the operation of other teams, and a plan that would move Arizona, the defending World Series and NL champion, to the American League next season.

The Diamondbacks say they want to stay in the NL. Selig said realignment scenarios would be considered after the two teams to be cut are identified.

Selig said all 30 major league teams will sell season tickets for 2002, even though he thinks two of them will not play.

''There are more than two candidates,'' he said. ''We haven't picked the final teams.

''I'm not going to get into the numbers game,'' he said. ''There was a remarkable amount of support for four teams, quite possibly over a majority.''

The move could set up a battle among cities to avoid being eliminated. Government assistance for new ballparks could get teams off the endangered list.

But Selig said: ''I'm not going to deal in what-ifs.'' He also said the possibility of moving teams has not been ruled out, but noted there currently aren't any acceptable cities to move to.

Washington-Northern Virginia has been the most aggressive area in pursuing a team, but the Baltimore Orioles say that territory belongs to them.

''Yogi Berra once said, 'It ain't over until it's over' and stadium debates have a way of being difficult,'' Selig said. ''Relocation may serve as a very practical solution down the road, but at this point in time, it doesn't serve as a practical solution.''

Owners of low-revenue markets complain that they can't compete with big spenders, like the Yankees and Diamondbacks, and the high-revenue teams don't want to give up any more money to revenue sharing. No small market team has won the World Series since the 1991 Twins, whose payroll was 15th among the 26 teams at the time.

''Is this a tacit admission that anything is fundamentally wrong? Absolutely it is not,'' Selig said. ''This shows we're committed to solving our problems.''

Asked if this was a sad day for baseball, Selig said, ''Sad day after the Series we just had? I wouldn't say so. The human part of this equation is what bothers me most. As someone who ran a team on who a lot of people's livelihood and careers depended, I'd say it's a sad day. I worry a lot about that.''



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