|Tuesday, November 6
The Twins don't deserve this
By Jim Caple
In the days after the Sept. 11 horrors, commissioner Bud Selig talked repeatedly about baseball being a social institution and the responsibilities it carried as such. I hope he doesn't conveniently forget those responsibilities today.
Selig and his fellow owners met in Chicago where they voted on a contraction plan that could kill off the Expos and Twins. If so, forget Robert Irsay backing up the moving trucks in the middle of the night. Forget Art Modell leaving behind sellouts in Cleveland. Forget anything and everything Al Davis ever did. Forget any scandal previously perpetrated by a sports owner or league on a community.
If baseball votes to eliminate the Twins, it will be ownership's most despicable act in sports history.
From its famed townball teams to its hanky-waving fans who made them the first American League team to ever draw three million fans in a season, Minnesota's passion and support for baseball is matched by few communities. The Twins outdrew the Yankees from 1987 until the strike. Only the Yankees have won more world championships in the past 15 years. They've been running at a modest profit in recent years, were in first place most of the past season and their attendance soared this year.
And yet baseball could buy out owner Carl Pohlad for as much as $250 million and mothball the team of Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett? Hey, why not vote to tear down Fenway's Green Monster, spray weed killer on Wrigley Field's ivy and melt down Yankee Stadium's monuments while you're at it?
Despite all the rumors that contraction is a done deal, many (myself included) are not convinced this is anything more than a threat to secure leverage with the union and add another weapon to ownership's long-running stadium blackmail schemes.
Remember, in his continuing attempt to have taxpayers build him a stadium, Pohlad claimed four years ago that he sold the Twins to a willing patsy named Don Beaver, who would move the team to Mayberry unless Minnesota built a new stadium. The state laughed in Pohlad's face. Naturally, the team stayed. It was all a transparent bluff.
Once Minnesota and other communities realized there are no other viable sites for teams to move though, the owners dreamed up an even more repulsive threat. Contraction.
If the owners vote to contract, there will be so many lawsuits filed that the case will be in the courtroom longer than Greta Van Susteren. In the meantime, the owners can bicker with the players union over possible job cuts while hoping Minnesota will finally agree to build a new stadium.
Selig and his cronies maintain that private companies often decide to go out of business rather than continue losing money. It's called bankruptcy, they point out, and it happens all the time in the real world.
This is nothing like that, though. This is a case of competitors banding together to buy out a rival, put it out of business and divvy up its assets. This is competitors claiming that one rival is financially incapable to continue and then offering two to three times its estimated value to kill it off.
Yes, baseball has financial problems but they are league-wide problems that need league-wide solutions, not the elimination of a few teams in an inherently cyclical business. The Twins nearly moved in 1984 when Pohlad bought them from Calvin Griffith. Three years later they were world champions and setting attendance records.
Such a turnaround not only could happen again, it probably will. Remember, had contraction come up a decade ago, the suspect teams would have been Cleveland and Seattle.
Baseball team owners could do whatever they decide makes the most sense and the public would have no claim to the contrary except for one very important fact. Once baseball teams began accepting public subsidies, they also took on public obligations.
The Twins are playing essentially rent-free in a stadium built for them by the state. Before that, they played at another stadium built for them. They, and almost every other team in pro sports, have been living off state subsidies for decades. If they aren't going to fulfill the accompanying public obligations, then they better get their hands out of our pockets.
The timing of all this is what turns my stomach the most. Thousands of bodies still remain under the World Trade Center rubble. Half a million workers have been laid off in the past month, including thousands of Northwest Airlines employees in Minnesota. And yet baseball is talking about eliminating teams and still demanding that communities pay for half-billion dollar stadiums for billionaire owners and millionaire players.
It was scandalous before. Now, it's obscene.
It's nice that Selig had teams play "God Bless America" at ballgames after Sept. 11. Of course, that was a cheap and easy gesture. He, Pohlad and the rest of the owners displayed their true character Tuesday and showed what they think baseball's real role is in our society. When it comes to showing community support in a meaningful way, they can behave like a social institution or a financial institution. They can stand by the communities that have supported them for so many years or they can put hundreds more people out of work.
Don't hold your breath, though. Pohlad, after all, is a banker who got his start collecting bad debts during the Depression. And Selig got his team when Milwaukee stole it from Seattle fans.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.