Cubs file lawsuit seeking to block move to NL West

July 08, 1992|By Matt O'Connor | Matt O'Connor,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs filed suit in federal court yesterday seeking to block baseball commissioner Fay Vincent from transferring the team to the National League's Western Division beginning in the 1993 season.

The suit charged that Vincent's decision, announced Monday, was arbitrary and capricious and "patently exceeds his authority under the Major League Agreement."

"The commissioner can no more order the Chicago Cubs to play in the Western Division of the National League than he could order them to play in the American League," the suit said.

Vincent, invoking his "best interests of baseball" powers, ordered the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals switched to the NL West and the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves to the NL East in the league's first realignment in 23 years.

The Cubs, owned by Tribune Co., contend that two separate provisions of the National League constitution require the consent of any club to be transferred.

Noted Cubs chairman Stanton R. Cook: "This lawsuit is not about the wisdom of any particular divisional alignment. The question here is simply whether the commissioner has the authority to overturn the National League constitution on a fundamental business question of how the league is structured and run. The Cubs did not want this fight with the commissioner and regret that it has become necessary."

The suit seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting the commissioner from ordering the Cubs to move to the West and a declaration that his decision Monday "is not authorized" under the Major League Agreement.

Interestingly, though, that same Major League Agreement prohibits teams from suing the commissioner, and all previous lawsuits against commissioners have failed -- most notably Charles O. Finley's against Bowie Kuhn in the Chicago courtroom of U.S. District Judge Frank J. McGarr in 1977.

"In baseball, you can't do anything that will get universal approval," Vincent said after learning of the suit. "I suppose it's always easier not to do things. I don't think that's the job. I'm not looking for issues. This issue came to me. I didn't invent this one."

The suit said the Cubs "strongly resisted" the realignment before Vincent's decision, objecting in particular to "the substantial injuries the Cubs and the fans would suffer if they lost traditional rivalries with National League Eastern Division rivals."

The commissioner's decision said the long-standing division alignments represented "geographical incongruities" and that these would be somehow "exacerbated when the Florida Marlins, a natural rival of the Atlanta Braves, join the National League East."

But the Cubs argued in the suit that Vincent's decision didn't explain "how a nascent Atlanta-Miami rivalry could approach the intensity of the long-standing rivalries [e.g. the Cubs and the Mets] that would be destroyed."

The Cubs also took issue with Vincent's contention that the team's opposition to realignment "is based at least in part -- and perhaps in large part -- on the national television scheduling difficulties that will be experienced by superstation WGN-TV as a result of the possibility that a greater number of Cubs games will be played in the Pacific Time Zone."

"There was no such evidence to this effect before the commissioner, and the assertion is false," the suit charged.

Tribune Co. also owns WGN-TV.

The Cubs, though, did argue that realignment will cause the Cubs to play a significantly greater number of games on the West Coast, making radio and TV broadcasts "less accessible" to Cubs fans.

"Realignment thus threatens to cause severe and irreparable harm to the Cubs and their relationship with Chicago fans," the suit said.

The Cubs, however, maintained the club would still oppose a move to the West if their games were not carried on a superstation or if the Cubs and WGN-TV weren't affiliated.

The suit contended the commissioner's best-interests-of-baseball powers gives him "authority to investigate conduct and activities and to ferret out evil wherever is found in the game." But that doesn't give him the authority to restructure baseball by ordering changes in the long-standing alignment of National League teams, the Cubs maintained.

The suit charged that Vincent acted at the behest of clubs that oppose the Cubs "because [the Cubs'] games are carried by the WGN-TV superstation, and because these clubs believe that these broadcasts reduce local interest in their teams and reduce their revenues."

U.S. District Judge Suzanne B. Conlon scheduled a hearing for this morning on the injunction request. A clerk in Conlon's chambers said the hearing was expected to be organizational.

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