Contraction's legal issues to be aired

Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2001

NEW YORK -- Lawyers for baseball players and owners hope to agree Wednesday on dates for hearing the union's grievance to stop two major league teams from being eliminated.

The sides planned to speak by telephone with Shyam Das, baseball's arbitrator.

Commissioner Bud Selig reiterated Tuesday he hopes to complete contraction by Dec. 15, with Montreal and Minnesota the most likely candidates for elimination, but the union contends the move violates its labor contract and that franchises can't be folded without its permission.

Selig acknowledged there was a chance the elimination could be held up by a judge or arbitrator, which could create lame-duck teams.

''That happened to the Braves in 1965 and it's happened to other clubs, but you can't worry about that,'' he said. ''The intention is to get it done.''

In Washington, Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Paul Wellstone, both Democrats, called a Wednesday news conference to introduce legislation to attack baseball's antitrust exemption. On Monday, Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle asked Selig to delay any decision on folding teams for at least one year.

''I spoke with Senator Daschle,'' Selig said at the Hank Greenberg Sportsmanship Award dinner Tuesday night. ''Any conversations I've had with people like that stays between us.''

Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth subpoenaed documents from Selig and the two teams in his state on Tuesday to find out if Florida and Tampa Bay are candidates for elimination.

''The people of Florida are entitled to some straight answers about the future of baseball in Florida,'' Butterworth said.

The subpoenas require baseball turn over documents to Butterworth by Dec. 13 -- including all studies, research or reports relating to contraction and any documents relating to the Nov. 6 meeting and the contraction vote that day.

Butterworth also wants documents relating to profits or losses by the two Florida teams and major league baseball, as well as the potential economic impact to Miami and the Tampa-St. Petersburg area of losing the teams. Butterworth thinks owners already might have decided which two teams will be dropped.

''It's not going to be easy for baseball to move out of the state of Florida,'' Butterworth said.

''Why are they always hiding behind closed doors? They act like they are electing a pope.''

Florida's Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that baseball's antitrust exemption didn't apply to franchise movement. Minnesota's Supreme Court ruled the opposite way two years ago, saying the exemption protected the Twins and baseball from an investigation by its attorney general.

In Minneapolis, a court hearing on a lawsuit filed against the Twins by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission was been delayed again after a second judge was removed from the case.

Hennepin County District Court Judge Harry Crump is expected to hear the case Thursday. The lawsuit is attempting to force the Twins to play in the Metrodome through the end of their lease in 2002.

Crump replaced Judge Catherine Anderson, who was picked to hear the case last week after lawyer Roger Magnuson, who represents the Twins and Selig, filed a notice removing Judge Diana Eagon.

Eagon issued a temporary restraining order barring the Twins from being eliminated. The commission is seeking a permanent injunction.

In Montreal, Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera was selected the Expos player of the year by the Montreal chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Cabrera, who hit .276 with 41 doubles and 96 RBIs, hoped he doesn't become the final winner.

''We're very sad,'' he said. ''It's a beautiful city and the people of Montreal deserve a big league team because I know that if we had a winning team, they would support it. And I believe a lot of players in the National League are sad, too, because they love to play in Montreal. I hope they stop it and play at least one more year.''

A fallout from contraction could be a decision by owners to move the World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks to the AL West from the NL West as part of realignment.

''I don't think it will happen, but it's obviously out of our control,'' Arizona pitcher Randy Johnson said after winning the NL Cy Young Award. ''If we would move to the American League, who would be the defending champions from the National League?''

Selig said no decisions have been made.

''Let's take it one day at a time,'' he said.

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