Last June, I wrote an article for Boston Baseball entitled "Contraction: Another Stupid Selig Idea." It's still a stupid idea, but MLB has overcome the first obstacle.
That obstacle was the shortage of owners willing to sell. Since no team could be contracted over its owner's objection, and since the owners of two of the likeliest targets, Montreal's Jeffrey Loria and Florida's John Henry, had made clear that they intended to stay in baseball, contraction seemed unattainable. One owner wanted out -- Disney was willing to sell the Anaheim Angels, but only at its price, and only to someone who'd keep the team in Anaheim -- but contraction required two teams.
But then Carl Pohlad threw the Twins into the mix. Pohlad -- MLB's single wealthiest non-corporate owner, who pocketed tens of millions of revenue-sharing dollars rather than reinvest them in the team -- doesn't understand why the locals won't build him a nearly-free ballpark. Having failed as an extortionist, Pohlad's becoming an arsonist, prepared to raze his team to collect his contraction money. And as if his attitude isn't insulting enough, Pohlad's grandson Thomas wrote a self-pitying whine for the local paper, in which he asserts that contraction will damage "the reputation of Minnesotans and Twins fans everywhere."
Any wonder why some of the lynch mobs forming for Bud Selig think it would also be a good idea to toss a fully conscious Carl Pohlad into Selig's coffin just before it's lowered into the ground?
But Pohlad's tantrum underscores the real motive behind contraction: to extort new taxpayer-funded ballparks from any city that wants to attract a team, or any city that wants to keep a team beyond the duration of its current lease. This tactic worked phenomenally well for a decade, but the last round of expansion deprived MLB of its most credible relocation option, the Tampa-St. Petersburg stadium originally built to lure the White Sox from Chicago.
In addition, the owners are probably dumb enough to consider the threat of contraction a major bargaining chip in this winter's labor negotiations. But by announcing contraction before even raising it with the MLBPA, the owners have brought on a grievance which could stop contraction in its tracks. Moreover, they've handed the MLBPA a huge public relations advantage -- and by pledging not to impose a signing freeze or lockout, a huge tactical advantage as well.
The 2002 All-Star Game is scheduled for Milwaukee. What would Bud do if the players threatened a three-day strike from Monday through Wednesday of the second week in July?
Copyright © 2001 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
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