- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

The idea of contraction has moved out of the office of baseball commissioner Bud Selig and is now off and running full steam among team owners.

Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, head of one four clubs subject to possible elimination at the hands of the fellow owners, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he will not stand in the way of the Twins ceasing to exist after four decades in the Twin Cities.

Though Selig and his staff have actively studied potential methods and ramifications of contraction for nearly a year, Pohlad's unwillingness to fight off the move even before it is even formally proposed represents perhaps the most significant statement yet on the issue.

"I've furnished a team here for 15 years and put $150 million cash into it, and I'm not going to do it anymore," said Pohlad, who has been unable to find a Minneapolis-area buyer for the club or secure a new, publicly funded stadium. "I'm tired of it. A business has to pay for itself."

No club in a major U.S. sports league has folded or been eliminated since the original Baltimore Bullets of the NBA went out of business in 1954, and baseball has not closed down a club since 1899. Because of that, the contraction talk has partially overshadowed what is shaping up as a classic World Series between New York and Arizona.

The owners will meet Tuesday in Chicago to begin wrestling with massive franchise instability in Minnesota, Montreal, Tampa Bay and Miami, as well as the intertwined and upcoming labor negotiations with the players union. It remains unclear whether they will make any hard decision on either issue, but long overdue progress on both is likely. Contraction requires approval by at least 23 of 30 owners.

With baseball's uncertain winds pointing in the direction of folding two franchises instead of pursuing relocation, the Washington area's two groups seeking to bring baseball here are springing into action. William Collins, head of the Northern Virginia-based effort, wrote Selig this week reiterating his views on the strength of the Washington market, as well as the opportunity to play a role in the healing of the nation following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The letter, which may also be sent to each club owner before the Chicago meeting, follows a similar one sent to Selig last week by five members of Virginia's Congressional delegation proposing the creation of a "national landmark ballpark" in Arlington dedicated to the victims of the attacks.

"We remain confident that when baseball looks at all the facts, they will opt for relocation prior to contracting any franchises," said Mike Scanlon, spokesman for the Collins-led Virginia Baseball Inc. "Mr. Collins has communicated again to the commissioner this week that the Washington area would provide extremely fertile ground for one of these currently troubled franchises."

The District-based effort, meanwhile, continues to pursue lobbying and promotional assistance from members of Congress.

Selig was unavailable for comment yesterday, but the commissioner said earlier this week that contraction in time for the start of the 2002 season remains possible. The Expos, Marlins and Devil Rays are expansion teams, but wiping out the Twins would be particularly drastic because the club traces its roots to 1901 as the first Washington Senators and a charter member of the American League.

Contracting franchises would be aimed at helping correct a fiscal and competitive imbalance that now sees top-revenue clubs outspending low-revenue counterparts by a more than 4-1 margin. Clubs in the top half in player payroll have won every World Series and more than 95 percent of all postseason games since 1995.

The move, however, would instantly generate a raft of lawsuits from jurisdictions that helped fund the construction of stadiums, contracted employees, vendors, sponsors, luxury seat holders and perhaps even the players association, which insists the move would be subject to collective bargaining. Congress also likely would investigate removing the game's cherished 1922 antitrust exemption.

Selig has had lawyers study the potential legal onslaught for months, and the recent comments from both Selig and Pohlad suggest the game is getting prepared for what would come.

"No matter what they do, they're getting sued," said one baseball insider close to Selig. "It's just a matter of degree."

If Pohlad's Twins or any other team be contracted, they would receive a check from baseball that could reach $250 million. That figure far exceeds any recent estimated value for the Expos, Twins, Devil Rays or Marlins.


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