- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig tried to put the best spin possible on the owners' decision Tuesday to contract two teams before next season, the game's first such move since 1899. But less than 10 minutes into his news conference, even the former car salesman had to admit that a can of worms had been opened.
"Understand there will be a fair number of potholes along the way," Selig said.
"Potholes" is the code word for the myriad and difficult aftereffects contraction now brings after the owners' 28-2 vote in favor, made less than 48 hours after the Arizona Diamondbacks wrapped up their first World Series championship in thrilling fashion. It is virtually certain that the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins will be the two clubs chosen for elimination, given their inability to match the local revenue of even the game's other ailing franchises.
Little else in baseball, however, is certain or stable anymore. Labor negotiations with the players union, which even weeks ago were proceeding on a unusually positive path, have now been poisoned yet again. Union chief Donald Fehr called the vote "a severe blow" to the hopes of forging a new and better relationship with the owners. Several parties, including the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch and even Congress are now planning to file lawsuits and legal injunctions all claims Selig said league lawyers have already spent thousands of hours preparing to handle.
The already released 2002 schedules are now worthless. Some employees of the Twins and Expos have begun looking for jobs. The players of those teams are unsure whether they will be placed in a dispersal draft or given free agency rights.
A dozen minor league affiliates are in limbo, though Mike Moore, president of Minor League Baseball, yesterday pledged that his organization's 160-team lineup will remain intact for next year. A star-laden free agent crop that includes Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, the likely most valuable players in each league, may suddenly grow quiet.
Realignment is also a puzzle. Scrapping the Twins and Expos would require a National League team to move to the American League to place an even number of clubs on each side. Arizona can be moved against its will in the next year, but as World Series champions, their leverage is now greater.
And there is nowhere near a consensus that the sport's troubled economic order is truly better off for what is happening.
"This is a fairly Draconian measure," Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told the Associated Press. "The economics of baseball are pretty bleak. And so they've done something a little ingenious, which is to say, 'Well, we're going to allow two teams to survive and two teams not to survive.'"
The Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Oakland Athletics also are on the game's endangered species list.
So what happens now to sort out this mess? There are whispers of meetings being held as soon as this week between the union and select owners. The first debate will be whether the owners can truly impose contraction on their own. Selig insists they can, as witnessed by Tuesday's vote. Fehr is diametrically opposed.
If contraction actually happens and there are some doubts it ultimately will the second debate is how to disperse the players on the contracted teams. Many baseball owners favor a straight dispersal draft that gives the highest picks to this year's worst teams. The union could push for free agency for at least some veteran players.
Debate No.3, of course, is a new collective bargaining agreement. The current accord has now expired, and while both Selig and Fehr have spoken of a goal of avoiding baseball's historic friction this time around and owners voted Tuesday to not lock out the players immediately, optimism now is not high.
"Over this last season, and especially over the last several weeks, we have been reminded vividly, of the special place baseball holds in America," Fehr said Tuesday. "This makes it all the more unfortunate that the clubs would choose this moment to dash the hopes of so many of its fans."
In the meantime, baseball walks a fine line between the high of the thrilling World Series and the low of the economic unease.
"We're coming off such a high from this season. How many more moments could you have packed in?" said Diamondbacks majority owner Jerry Colangelo. "We've really got something to build on, and I'm very sensitive on how we move forward."


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