Baseball Owners Vote to Cut Two Teams
November 6, 2001 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Baseball Owners Vote to Cut Two Teams Has the popularity of baseball peaked or will MLB just move these two to better markets?
posted by Oxydude (37 comments total)
I like the idea of contraction. At the very least, it gives players like Vladimir Guerrero and Javier Vasquez a chance to shine in a city that appreciates them. It'll definitely be interesting to see how the rumored disperal draft pans out.

ESPN has a good article about all this here.
posted by mmesker at 7:20 PM on November 6, 2001

Personally, I prefer my sports leagues to be nice 'n small. In addition to the fact I don't care for insanely long seasons, when there are too many teams it really spreads the talent pool thin. Fewer teams == fewer bench warmers.
posted by Dark Messiah at 7:29 PM on November 6, 2001

Hélas, je ne vais jamais voir les Mets á Montréal...
posted by ParisParamus at 7:38 PM on November 6, 2001

All indications suggest the Expos and the Twins will be the teams getting the ax. However, it looks like the state of Minnesota won't be going down without a fight.
posted by mrbula at 7:39 PM on November 6, 2001

It's very unfortunate that the Expos will end up leaving Montreal; however if the team is going to go I think that the MLB should outright decertify the team. Jeff Loria has been deliberately running the attendance numbers into the ground for the past 2 years or so in a not so subtle attempt to pack it up and move south, and I certainly don't think that the league should reward him for having done so.
posted by clevershark at 7:40 PM on November 6, 2001

Gary Huckabay says it best: "Contraction serves one purpose and one purpose only: it creates negotiating leverage for the owners against the MLB Players Association and any potential municipalities they may be sitting across the table from in the next few years."

the idea that there is a "thin" talent pool, dark messiah, is not well founded I believe. while there are more teams now than in the past, it is also true that baseball has a much larger international presence now than it ever has. there are baseball academies in south america, where boys can come and learn to play baseball (and hopefully be signed by the team that owns the academies). there are scouting presences in Australia (Graeme Lloyd and Luke Prokopec), Japan, Korea (Byung Hun Kim, Chan Ho Park, Hee Seop Choi), Taiwan (Chin Feng Chen I believe), and many other countries.

and, to be quite honest, the only reason poor teams cannot compete is due to managerial incompetence. Oakland is led by a very capable GM in Billy Beane, while Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and KC all led by idiots (though the head idiot in Pittsburgh, Cam Bonifay, lost his job this year). furthermore, it has been mentioned that as compensation for the loss of teams, rosters may be increased from 25 to 27 players -- thus there won't be fewer bench warmers (there may actually be more).
posted by moz at 7:46 PM on November 6, 2001

I have to say I am a bit bitter about this. I live in Minneapolis and think that cutting the Twins is payback because the citizens here have consistently rejected public stadium financing. Why else would you cut a team in the 14th largest media market that has won two World Series since 1987, finished second in their division this year, and were the first franchise to draw 3 million fans.
posted by chrismc at 8:06 PM on November 6, 2001

the idea that there is a "thin" talent pool, dark messiah, is not well founded

Exactly. The idea that baseball talent is thinner than in the past is a false assumption made by those who truly do not understand the game or are quick to jump on commonly held yet unsupported or falsely held beliefs.

The talent pool may be unfairly concentrated in certain markets, but the talent itself is deeper than at any time in baseball history.

Has the popularity of baseball peaked

Yes. For many reasons. Remember, during baseballs 'golden age' competition from other sports wasn't near as deep as it is today, and in the mtv/wrestling generation, baseball can seem less accessible than other sports.

But remember, popularity more times than not has little to do with quality.
posted by justgary at 8:36 PM on November 6, 2001

i'm not too choked up about the expos, but why the twins? why not the tampa bay devil rays for god's sake? the twins are a team that does have some history behind it, and i honestly don't see that many people wearing their devil ray fan memorabilia proudly.
posted by babydoll at 8:44 PM on November 6, 2001

chrismc is right on. The whole Twins thing has to do with the owner says they needs a new stadium, but they're not going to get a new stadium.
posted by tomorama at 8:51 PM on November 6, 2001


1) carl pohlad is disinterested in the twins. he has not been able to get a stadium publically funded, also, which is his main sticking point.

2) the devil rays and florida marlins are not popularly being targeted for contraction because of jeb bush's influence on the president. MLB is afraid that if any of the florida teams go, there will be serious talk on capitol hill about taking away the league's anti-trust exemption.

i feel that contraction has been used and is being used right now as blackmail for the states which are refusing to publically fund stadiums for teams, relating to carl pohlad and all. it's sad. the minnesota twins, formerly known as the washington senators, have many hall of famers. kirby puckett; rod carew; harmon killebrew; walter "big train" johnson. but...

i suppose, on the bright side, the cubs might be able to draft brad wilkerson from the expos in the player dispersal draft that would follow contraction.
posted by moz at 8:52 PM on November 6, 2001

this is retarded and depressing.

we're not interesting in funding a stadium with public money so a private interest (pohlad) can make money off the deal.

pohlad doesn't want to fork out for a new stadium.

i can see that asshole placing the blame on the people on MN for not buying his a shiny new stadium on the river.

if he's so disinterested he should sell the team to someone who's interested in keeping them in the state... there are PLENTY of people wealthy enough to purchase the twins.

posted by manero at 9:43 PM on November 6, 2001

Local sportswriting legend Sid Hartman wrote a devastating column on the Twins situation.
posted by chrismc at 10:02 PM on November 6, 2001

The Minnesota Twins are only 304 miles from the Milwaukee Brewers. From 1991-2000, the Milwaukee Brewers drew 15,238,305 in attendance while the Minnesota Twins drew 15,499,156. Current commissioner of baseball: owns the Brewers. Where's Kennesaw Mountain Landis when you need him? Bud Selig needs to be banned from baseball for life...

The best I can hope for is that the people of Minnesota don't blink- and baseball finally stops extorting citizens for stadium welfare payments because no one's biting.

posted by hincandenza at 10:23 PM on November 6, 2001

I think the Marlins are toast. (Have you seen their attendance figures? Sheesh.)

As to popularity of the game, its ratings took a major hit with the strike a few years back and never really recovered. The McGwire/Sosa competition helped a bit, but ratings never returned to prestrike levels. Part of the reason is that the fans looked at the owners and the players getting greedy, and said "A plague on both your houses" and took their ticket dollars (and TV viewing time) elsewhere.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:46 PM on November 6, 2001


actually, bud selig is not the owner of the brewers. though he is a former owner of the team, his daughter currently owns the brewers organization.

believe me, there are only two reasons the twins might get the axe: 1) minnesota is sufficiently politically isolated, and 2) carl pohlad is willing to accept the buyout.
posted by moz at 11:30 PM on November 6, 2001

Damnit, I knew someone was going to capitalize on the Bud Selig - Milwaukee Brewers link. hincandenza, I don't understand how you could completely ignore one glaring and extremely important difference between the two ballclubs with regards to the 2001 season : we paid (okay, 78% worth was taxpayer-ponied) for our brand-spankin-new Miller Park, and ever since it's been up and running for 2001, the Brewers set an all-time Milwaukee baseball attendance record with 2,811,041 fans strolling through the turnstiles. That was a 78.6% increase from the previous year, a Major League record increase.

Do not tell me building a new ballpark is definitely not the answer. I just want to know who the hell was in charge of the Metrodome, because boy did I ever hate going to games in that overinflated balloon. I'm sorry, but it sucked if you're any kind of baseball fan, and most Twins fans I talked to agreed. Then again, it was extremely hard for me to encounter an admitted Twins fan anywhere in Minnesota until they started having a winning season in the last couple years, but I digress.

Here's an interesting editorial about new ballparks and why sometimes, even if the taxpayers ante up 100% of the dough, even a new ballpark can lose its sheen.
posted by evixir at 11:48 PM on November 6, 2001

The Twins are getting screwed. (At least the Miami Herald claims a high-level baseball source says the Marlins aren't getting the axe.)

The Twins' franchise has been around since the foundation of the American League in 1901, and even then it was just continuing a ball club in operation since 1884. There are sixteen franchises that have been around for 100 years - can't they prune away the 1969 Expos and the 1993 Marlins? That would make a lot more sense to people who actually care about whether baseball is happening in these various cities, anyway.

Eliminating the Twins is as despicable as this article says: "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."
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:06 AM on November 7, 2001

moz: actually, bud selig is not the owner of the brewers. though he is a former owner of the team, his daughter currently owns the brewers organization

More accurately from ESPN: his ownership was placed in a blind trust which is run by trustees, while the team is run by his daughter who is not an investor. However, when/if he ceases to be the commissioner, his ownership is returned to him in full- with any increase in investment value that comes along with it. That's still a huge conflict of interest.

evixir: I don't understand how you could completely ignore one glaring and extremely important difference... Do not tell me building a new ballpark is definitely not the answer.

Hey, new ballparks are cool- and if MLB, with its nearly $3 billion dollars in total annual revenue wants to build a new ballpark for a team, they're free to knock themselves out. One new stadium a year- or a new stadium for each team every 30 years- would cost about $8-10M per team each year. Not chump change, but doable- unless, of course, they don't need the stadiums after all, or suddenly realized that if they were footing the bill, old stadiums could be retrofitted or not replaced as often to save their money. But this extortion routine- "Better pay up with a new tax-payer funded stadium, or the team gets it!"- is getting old. Besides, for a fraction of what it costs to build a new stadium, you could mount a legal attack on MLB to prevent them from pulling the team out of town or get that antitrust exemption lifted, and in the end MLB would build the stadium anyway if they truly needed it.

ibid: it was extremely hard for me to encounter an admitted Twins fan anywhere in Minnesota until they started having a winning season in the last couple years

In the last couple of years? What's the revisionist history trick for? Remember, they were drawing 3 million + in attendance in '87 and '91- y'know, before it was cool to draw 3 million fans. These would be those years when they won two World Championships. Look, I don't think either Milwaukee or Minnesota should be contracted, but by posing it as a dilemma, you're falling into the owner's trap: having cities squabble amongst themselves and debate the merits of giving huge tax-payer funded bribes to MLB to not move their teams.

posted by hincandenza at 12:42 AM on November 7, 2001

I've always thought it was a complete scandal that American sports teams thought it was the job of the community to provide them with a stadium/arena. And what happens when a city refuses to give in to this blackmail? The team is moved or shut down. Economic madness.

There is a way to cure baseball's problems, but it involves a radical rethink. Look across the Atlantic to Europe and see how football leagues are organsied there. Split MLB into two divisions - MLB1 and MLB2, each with 16 teams. Each year the bottom 3 of MLB1 change places with the top 3 of MLB2. This would, under normal circumstances, put the likes of Montreal, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Kansas, Florida, Tampa Bay and Oakland together and allow them to compete at their own level. If Minnesota can't generate the sort of revinue to compete with the Yankees, let them lower their sights.

It's not minor league, because it's all under the umbrella of MLB. There's an argument that American fans won't accept or understand promotion/relegation, but as far as I know it's never been triied, so how do we know?
posted by salmacis at 12:49 AM on November 7, 2001

the likes of Montreal, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Kansas, Florida, Tampa Bay and Oakland

Hey, leave the almighty A's out of this, buster!
posted by Zurishaddai at 1:33 AM on November 7, 2001

I for one will be sad to see the Expos go; I had an attachment to them in the 1970s when I was growing up, but when I moved to southern Ontario in the late-1980s I had to start following the Jays. There are a number of reasons why the Expos are in trouble -- Olympic Stadium, popularity of the Canadiens, Montreal sports culture -- but I think the lack of effective revenue sharing is the biggest issue.

Major league sports are generally in a significant decline, as is wrestling right now, by the way. I think the only numbers that are solid at the moment are football, and I wouldn't count on that lasting. Sports Illustrated ran an article about this last year, suggesting that we may be near the end of the business cycle for professional team sports.
posted by tranquileye at 3:16 AM on November 7, 2001

I'm from Minneapolis, and am a Twins fan, but I do not believe large amounts of public funds should be used to build a stadium for a multimillionaire. It seems to me that the rhetoric used by the Twins ownership would get a person arrested for extortion in any other situation--but this is baseball, so normal laws don't apply. To most Minnesota fans, it feels like a shakedown.

Over the past years several deals were brought up, but public sentiment was definitely against doling out welfare to Pohlad. And Major League Baseball hasn't helped matters, since the other owners all agree that teaching the Minnesota public a harsh lesson in big league ball would keep the rest of the franchise cities in line. I expect the Twins be gone by next year. "REMEMBER THE TWINS" will be MLB's warning to any other city which balks at opening up their wallets. You've all been warned.
posted by mooncrow at 6:33 AM on November 7, 2001

MLB is afraid that if any of the florida teams go, there will be serious talk on capitol hill about taking away the league's anti-trust exemption

Personally, I think you can easily say "if any of the teams go, period" (with the exception of the Expos). Somewhere along the line I think Sen. McCain spoke out about this, but I'll have to go digging for the citation again.

In an ideal world, MLB would force the respective ownerships to put the teams up for sale without any restrictions on whether the team could be moved or not. This would create some goodwill by allowing ownership groups in cities that have been ignored for too long - like Washington DC! - to get a fair shot at a team. Only if they fail should MLB consider whether to contract.

My fervent hope is that the teams to fold are the Devil Rays and the Marlins, the Twins move back to DC and become the Senators once again, and the Expos are allowed to move wherever (Charlotte?). But this probably ain't gonna happen unless Congress dumps the anti-trust exemption.
posted by PeteyStock at 7:14 AM on November 7, 2001

One reason why American major league sports might be suffering a downturn is the sheer crass commercialism. What other country in the world would allow such a thing as a "TV timeout"? Watching a live NFL game can be difficult when the ad breaks disrupt the action.
posted by salmacis at 7:19 AM on November 7, 2001

The Marlins will be fine. We know they will be around until at least 2015.
posted by ljromanoff at 7:29 AM on November 7, 2001

Ask yourself this question: "What do the other owners gain by paying two teams $250M each to fold?" Why would the Pittsburgh Pirates chip in their share to buy out other teams?

I'll believe it when the final announcement comes out explaining which teams are going, how the players will be distributed, who's going to pay the players that have contracts that nobody wants, who's going to pay the remaining stadium leases, etc.

Looks to me like a negotiation ploy. They're trying to get leverage with the player's association with the threat of 50 lost jobs. They're trying to get leverage with the cities these teams are in to build new stadiums.
posted by jeffsmith at 7:30 AM on November 7, 2001

The reason why it probably sounds like Milwaukee isn't even being considered is because Milwaukee residents would probably riot, not because the Brewers were gone but because they have no use for a brand new stadium they paid for.
posted by drezdn at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2001

drezdn's got it. i think the most important factor in baseball contraction is definitely the stadium situation in the city where the teams play. each of the four teams rumored to have been considered for contraction have stadium trouble (either it sucks, they can't get a new one, or both): the minnesota twins, the florida marlins, the tampa bay devil rays, and the montreal expos.
posted by moz at 9:47 AM on November 7, 2001

dresdn, hicandenza, moz, et. al. - There is a really great book out there (Playing the Field, Charles C. Euchner) on how major league sports teams manipulate municipalities to get sweetheart deals and stadiums.

Seattle went through its own debacle in this regard with Saefco Field and now the new Seahawks stadium. The new baseball stadium is beautiful, but jeez, at over half a billion dollars you think they could do better than to charge me $6.00 for a can of Coors.
posted by edlark at 11:26 AM on November 7, 2001

Okay, tidbits that haven't been brought up yet:

In 1997, Pohlad said he was going to move the Twins to sell the team to a new owner who'd move them to, of all places, Greensboro, North Carolina. The public assumption was that the whole story was a bunch of B.S.: that is, because the public wouldn't build him a stadium, he was going to move the team to N.C., to a market 1/3 the size of the Twin Cities, where the local public didn't want to spend money on a stadium? Come on.

Then Pohlad said he'd donate a bunch of his money for a stadium if the Minnesota taxpayers would kick in some. After the press conference, reporters picked over the deal, and figured out that in the fine print the donation wasn't a gift, it was a loan to the State, and Pohlad expected the State to pay interest on it.

Ever since those two comedy sketches, nobody around here is willing to trust Pohlad with their kid's lunch money. Stadium drives have become so unpopular (latest polls--78% opposed to public financing for sports stadiums) that politicians can get elected just by promising not to spend money on a stadium. Just last year we had several candidates--even for Congress and such, where the issue wasn't even involved--who ran TV commercials with such a promise.

A non-Pohlad group of investors tried to buy the Twins in '99, conditional on the City of St. Paul ponying up tax dollars for a stadium. It went to a referendum, the stadium referendum went down in flames. Admittedly, that deal would have put the brunt of the costs on St. Paul (pop. 270,000 or so), rather than spreading them out metro- or statewide.

Another aggravating theory that has been floated recently is that the Twins might never have been in financial trouble at all; that Pohlad kept them in red ink intentionally as a tax write-off to offset his banking income. He sold off his banks a couple of years ago; now that he doesn't need the tax write-off any more--so this theory says--he's going to throw the Twins in the garbage. Doesn't need 'em anymore. How true that is, who can say, but it's been floated by the local media around here. Pohlad, incidentally, is richer than Croesus, one of the wealthiest individuals in Minnesota, and the various dollar amounts that are being thrown in this controversy are all assumed by the public to be chump change to him.

Bud Selig marching onto the scene behaving like Montgomery Burns hasn't helped matters.

posted by gimonca at 11:54 AM on November 7, 2001

And yet more...

"Contraction" was talked about all summer up here, but nobody thought it would happen now, partly because of the flurry of lawsuits it would start, partly because the Twins played pretty good ball in 2001 and attendance was way up, and because either Tampa or Florida looked like much more obvious targets. Now it turns out that Tampa has some huge long lease tied to it, but the Twins only have one more year on their Metrodome lease. That may be the clincher. That, and the fact that Pohlad doesn't give a crap.

Another wild card: while all this is going on, the Vikings are saying they need a new stadium too.

And yet another tidbit: there's been a group of downtown Minneapolis types trying to put together a plan for a completely privately financed ballpark in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. They want to build a smaller, "boutique ballpark", with a Camden Yards or Wrigley Field feel. The Twins organization has consistently told them to get lost.

posted by gimonca at 12:04 PM on November 7, 2001

Bud Selig owns a 35% stake in the Brewers. Of course he's going to eliminate the Twins who compete in an adjacent market.
posted by tiny pea at 8:11 PM on November 7, 2001

As someone who became a baseball fan when the Marlins came to Florida, I would be sort of sad to see them go. But not much. It was more fun to watch them build towards being a solid team than Huizenga buying the Series (not to say I didn't enjoy it). And the post-series dismantling and "rebuilding" has been painful to watch (one wonders when old Wayne will try the same game with the Dolphins).

I'd like to see a team come to D.C. because the Orioles ain't doing diddly and even Cal is gone.
posted by owillis at 12:01 AM on November 8, 2001

Another wild card: while all this is going on, the Vikings are saying they need a new stadium too

Think they'll move to San Antonio or LA? That team seems to be on the downswing, and they won't be able to fill a new stadium.
posted by owillis at 12:03 AM on November 8, 2001

Red McCombs is strongly on record as saying "the Vikings will not be playing in the Metrodome in 20XX", where 20XX = whatever the next football season is after their lease runs out. Still a few years away (2005? 06?). Could mean "in a new stadium in Minnesota" or could mean elsewhere.

Half the people you talk to say that if the Twins go belly up, people will be shocked and the Vikings will get a fresh new stadium handed to them on a silver platter. The other half say that the stadium issue is so poisoned now that Red will consider the stadium situation to be utterly hopeless, give up and move away without even making another bid to the Legislature.

The Vikings played an exhibition game in San Antonio this fall; apparently ticket sales were underwhelming, and Red McCombs was left with a little egg on his face. San Antonio, of course, has no more of a proper stadium than Minneapolis has, so he'd be starting from square one--in a smaller market--if he moved there. (Even though it's his hometown.) Los Angeles has just started being mentioned in reports, but it could be a more serious threat, being a bigger market with any number of facilities for now, and resources to build bigger facilities in the future. Portland, Oregon, of all places, has been mentioned as another longshot if the Vikes leave town.

Vikings have no trouble selling out the current Dome, even when they suck. People up here are more than willing to shell out big bucks to watch Randy Moss yawn and scratch his ass for ten, fifteen minutes at a time, hoping he'll find a few seconds in his day to make the monster catch that wins the game.

One stadium-issue advantage the Vikes have that the Twins don't is that the Vikings can share a new stadium with the Univ. of Minnesota Gophers. That way, they can say something like "we need public money for a stadium, but it's for the Gophers too, not just for Red McCombs, so that's okay". That might just work.

posted by gimonca at 8:21 AM on November 8, 2001

Anything, anything but the Metrodome. Noone mentioned anything about it when I asked somewhat sarcastically above, but seriously... who'd they build it for, and what were they thinking?
posted by evixir at 11:34 PM on November 10, 2001

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