- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

Major League Baseball says it received no legitimate offer to purchase the Montreal Expos this winter and was left with no choice but to assume ownership of the troubled franchise, a claim that was strongly opposed by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday during a hearing that revolved around baseball's longstanding antitrust exemption.

"We had no buyers, and we have no buyers," Robert DuPuy, MLB's executive vice president and chief legal officer, said of Tuesday's unprecedented transfer of the Expos ownership to baseball's 29 other teams.

Senator Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), countered DuPuy's claim by pointing out that two local ownership groups Fred Malek's Washington Baseball Club and William Collins' Virginia Baseball Club submitted offers to purchase the Expos last month, with the understanding that the club would relocate for the 2003 season.

"If you can't bring a club to a viable market, that's a concern," DeWine said. "It is the [antitrust] exemption which enables you to make what many would consider to be an arbitrary decision. You have bidders out there who want to bring the team to a viable market, and you stifle that."

The committee heard testimony yesterday from DuPuy, players' union head Donald Fehr, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Minnesota Deputy Attorney General Lori Swanson and minor league vice president Stan Brand. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who proposed legislation on Nov.14 to strip baseball of its antitrust exemption in cases of franchise relocation or contraction, also testified before the committee during a hearing that covered a wide variety of topics.

The highlight of the day, though, was DeWine's animated exchange with DuPuy over baseball's decision to attempt to contract the Expos rather than relocate them to the Washington area.

"The purpose of contraction was to improve the competitive product," DuPuy said. "Commissioner [Bud Selig] has said Washington is the prime relocation candidate. But he has also said that until we fix the economic system merely moving a team from one location to another only ensures the failure of the new market."

DeWine fired right back at DuPuy.

"I don't know too many people who think that [a team in] the Washington area couldn't survive."

Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) questioned whether contraction of major league teams like the Expos would lead to contraction of those organization's minor league franchises as well, holding up a Vermont Expos cap to make his point.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has supported baseball's antitrust exemption in the past, said MLB's attempt to unilaterally contract two teams may give her reason to change her stand on the issue.

"If you eliminate the smaller markets, you essentially destroy baseball as we know it today as the national pastime," Feinstein said. "If I am going to continue to support the antitrust exemption, it can't be at the risk of losing all smaller market teams, which is the way I think it's been going."

After listening to DuPuy and Fehr testify about the two sides' inability over the years to agree to substantial revenue sharing, Feinstein offered up a potential solution. "In exchange for revenue sharing," she asked DuPuy, "would you give up contraction?"

DuPuy shot down that scenario by ripping into the players' union.

"Under this [economic] structure, there are markets that cannot remain. In certain circumstances, could we avoid contraction? Perhaps, but 30 years of bargaining says we're not going to get a salary cap, we're not going to get 50 percent revenue sharing. We're not going to get anywhere close to that."

Other highlights from the 2½-hour session included:

•DuPuy acknowledging that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Florida Marlins were considered for contraction along with the Expos and Minnesota Twins.

•Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions pushing for friend Donald Watkins, who has submitted bids to buy the Devil Rays and Twins, to become professional baseball's first minority owner.

•Fehr saying the union is committed to increased revenue sharing and would consider a competitive-balance draft in the next labor contract.

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