Judge blocks baseball from axing Minnesota

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A Minnesota judge blocked major league baseball from folding the Twins, ordering the team to play its 2002 home schedule in the Metrodome.

The lawyer for the team and commissioner Bud Selig immediately promised an appeal to lift the court order.

''We are confident that we will prevail at the end of the day,'' attorney Roger Magnuson said. ''We have a very strong case and believe that we will be fully vindicated when our appeal is heard.''

The order issued Friday by Hennepin County District Judge Harry Seymour Crump threw into question last week's vote by baseball owners to eliminate two major league teams next season. While owners didn't formally pick the teams when they met Nov. 6, they made clear the Montreal Expos and the Twins were the likely candidates.

Crump also ordered Twins owner Carl Pohlad not to sell the team unless the new owner agrees to have the team play its 2002 home schedule in the Metrodome.

''The welfare, recreation, prestige, prosperity, trade and commerce of the people of the community are at stake,'' Crump wrote in his four-page order.

''The Twins are one of the few professional sports teams in town where a family can afford to take their children to enjoy a hot dog and peanuts and a stadium. The vital public interest, or trust, of the Twins substantially outweighs any private interest.''

Selig, reached at his home in Milwaukee, declined comment.

Baseball and the Twins will take their case to a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, although temporary injunctions usually are difficult to remove before a trial

Spring training starts in just three months, making it unlikely a trial would be over before then.

In another development Friday, House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican, said he intends to hold a hearing on baseball's antitrust exemption. Legislation introduced earlier in the week by Senator Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat, and Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, would apply antitrust laws to franchise elimination and relocation.

Hours after baseball owners voted in favor of contraction, the Twins and major league baseball were sued by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome. The Twins' lease at the ballpark runs through the 2002 season.

''It throws a significant log in front of a runaway train,'' said Bill Lester, executive director of the commission. ''This will have many more long and torturous turns,'' he said. ''But this is a significant step forward for people who love baseball.''

Baseball players have filed a grievance to block the teams from folding, claiming contraction violates their labor contract, which expired last week. Arbitrator Shyam Das is to hear that case next month.

Florida, Oakland and Tampa Bay also are candidates to be eliminated, but they have not been mentioned as prominently and the Expos and Twins. The Marlins and Devil Rays might be difficult to get rid of because a 1994 Florida Supreme Court decision ruled baseball's antitrust exemption did not apply to franchise relocation.

Also Friday, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura met in St. Paul with top lawmakers and business leaders and said he will take a more active role in the fight to save the team. Pohlad, who has been repeatedly stymied by the government in attempts to obtain funding for a new ballpark, met later Friday with Ventura and said he would call Selig to find out if baseball would delay contraction.

''What I'm going to bring to the forefront is that baseball, before they make rash decisions to eliminate teams, should step back, take a deep breath and take a year and really think about the decisions that they're making and what the repercussions would be,'' Ventura said.

Among those who met with Ventura were lawyers Mike Ciresi and Clark Griffith (the son of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith), publisher Vance Opperman and printing magnate Harvey Mackay, the nucleus of a group forming to bid for the Twins.

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Editor's Note: Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this story from New York



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