Baseball sure knows how to ruin a fall classic

November 07, 2001|By Mike Preston

Major League Baseball officials couldn't wait to hurt themselves again.

Within 48 hours of the 97th World Series, possibly the greatest ever played, they shot themselves in the foot by announcing that league owners voted yesterday to eliminate two teams before the start of next season, even though they wouldn't specify which ones.

Talk about a bummer.

The leftover champagne at Arizona's stadium wasn't even warm yet. Diamondback pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling hadn't even cleared a spot in their trophy cases for their MVP awards before commissioner Bud Selig pulled the plug on the nation's post-game party.

What a shame.

The game was just starting to enjoy a buzz. People care again. They wanted to know who won the game last night instead of who is left on The Survivor series.

Now this.

Instead of fans around the country celebrating the grand old game, there are at least five cities in the running for losing their respective franchises. Everyone says the two teams are Montreal and Minnesota, but what about Florida, Tampa Bay and Kansas City? They have problems, too, right?

That's why Selig said something had to be done. The Expos averaged only 7,648 fans at Olympic Stadium this year and locally generated revenue of about $16 million, 8 percent of the Yankees' total of nearly $200 million. No small-market, low-revenue team has won the World Series since the 1991 Twins, whose payroll was 15th among the 26 teams at the time.

"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 viable major-league franchises."

"There are more than two candidates," Selig said. "We haven't picked the final teams. I'm not going to get into the numbers game. There are a lot of people in the game who were in favor of four-team contraction."

I understand what is being done here. It's about the future, even though this league might need a salary cap to survive. It's about threatening to take away players' jobs and gaining leverage on the union as the owners enter into negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.

That's all understandable.

But did the owners have to make this announcement now?

It's just another bitter taste after the strike-shortened season of 1994. That was going well, too. Back then, the Expos had the best record in baseball. Now they have a For Sale sign on the porch.

In a game that is already too long, too slow and too boring, they get another black eye.

The game has been criticized for being devoid of leadership, and Selig didn't help the image much. Maybe he was trying not to unveil too much of his game plan, but it appears that the sport just drifts in the wind.

He didn't name the two teams and said nothing about how the players would be dispersed. It would have been nice to announce some type of timetable for any future plans.

But all we hear are rumors like the Twins' demise would help Expos owner Jeffrey Loria collapse his struggling franchise and he would buy the Florida Marlins. And Florida owner John Henry, who can't get a new stadium in Miami, would take the Anaheim Angels off the hands of the Disney Corporation.

And if the majors drop from 30 to 28, then the Diamondbacks could move to the American League West. Now, how embarrassing is it that the league might have to move the defending National League and World Series champions?

Major League Baseball is headed for more quicksand. There will probably be lawsuits from community organizations from the cities that have lost teams (ask Ravens owner Art Modell about that move from Cleveland). And players association director Donald Fehr isn't going to let them eliminate jobs without some type of dispersal draft.

This could get ugly.

"This decision has been made unilaterally, without any attempt to negotiate with the players, apparently without any serious consideration of other options, including relocation and seemingly with little concern for the interest of the fans," Fehr said.

"Over this last season, and, especially over the last several weeks, we have been reminded, vividly, of the special place baseball holds in America," he said. "This makes it all the more unfortunate that the clubs would choose this moment to dash the hopes of so many of its fans."

Fehr, of course, is playing on the emotion of fans. But he'll get no sympathy here. It's greedy players vs. greedy owners. But he is right about one thing: Major League Baseball blew it with the fans again.

Baseball has undergone eight work stoppages since 1972. People don't forget that. They can't, because baseball won't allow them. It's one bad thing after another.

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