The Washington Post
ROSEMONT, Ill. Less than 48 hours after the conclusion of one of the most memorable World Series in history, Major League Baseball owners voted yesterday to eliminate two teams before the 2002 season over the objection of the players” association.
Commissioner Bud Selig said the teams to be dropped have not been selected, but MLB sources said owners of the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins are most likely to accept buyouts of $250 million each.
The Florida Marlins (located in Miami) and Tampa Bay Devil Rays are two other teams in difficult financial positions and far from competitive financially with more successful teams such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Baltimore Orioles.
“It makes no sense for Major League Baseball to be in markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise,” Selig said. “The teams to be contracted have a long record of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable major league franchise.”
Selig argued that relocating teams to new markets, including the Washington area, would not solve the sport”s economic problems as satisfactorily as contraction, although Selig said relocation might be considered in the future.
“The Washington/Northern Virginia area was obviously very aggressive in pursuing a club and we”ll be very sensitive to their issues as time goes on. If relocation serves (to improve the sport”s economic situation), we will look at it. … Merely transferring existing problems to another ownership group or another city would only exacerbate the problem, not solve it,” Selig said.
The Orioles have opposed any attempt to place a team in either Washington or Northern Virginia, arguing it would infringe upon their franchise. Majority owner Peter Angelos, who attended yesterday”s meeting along with Chief Operating Officer Joe Foss and Vice President of Baseball Operations Syd Thrift, was rushed into a waiting van after the meeting and did not comment on yesterday”s announcement.
With baseball”s collective bargaining agreement expiring at midnight last night, the owners” action is widely viewed as a move to gain leverage for what could be a protracted labor dispute with the players” association.
Donald Fehr, executive director of the players” association, called the contraction announcement “imprudent and unfortunate” in a statement issued yesterday night. Fehr added that the union had no say in the decision and predicted yesterday”s action will not help in negotiations.
Selig insisted the decision is “absolutely not a negotiating ploy,” and promised the owners would not lock out the players or institute a freeze on player signings.
“We”re trying to move as peacefully as we can,” Selig said. “… This will not be an unpleasant process.”
However, eliminating teams faces several obstacles, including legal challenges from the cities involved and the time element. Spring training camps are scheduled to open in less than 3 1/2 months. The league had released a tentative 30-team schedule but now must revise it for 28 teams. One team, possibly the World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks, could be shifted from the National League to the American League as part of a realignment, sources said.
“We”d like to do this as soon as possible,” Selig said. “There are so many moving parts to this puzzle. We”re breaking historic ground here. No professional sports league (in the modern era) has done this.”