Baseball crunches numbers

Owners could delay contraction for year

November 27, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has called club owners together again for a meeting today in Chicago, where they are expected to plot strategy for upcoming labor negotiations, discuss the fallout from their controversial contraction plan and, perhaps, vote to extend Selig's term.

The meeting, the second in three weeks at the Chicago O'Hare Airport Hilton Hotel, is not expected to produce any dramatic change in ownership strategy on any front, but it could end with an announcement that Major League Baseball will delay the dissolution of two franchises until after the 2002 season.

Selig outlined an ambitious contraction plan when the owners last met, on Nov. 6, calling for two teams to be disbanded before next season and a December dispersal draft to redistribute the major- and minor-league players from the dissolved clubs.

Though he did not specify which teams would be contracted, it has been widely speculated that the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins would be bought out by the remaining teams to increase per-team national television revenues and decrease revenue-sharing subsidies to the small-market clubs.

But the plan met with instant resistance from the Major League Baseball Players Association, as well as legal obstacles in Minnesota and another federal challenge to baseball's antitrust exemption.

The players union filed a grievance charging the owners failed to act in good faith when they announced contraction without consulting union officials on related issues that are governed by the collective bargaining agreement.

Local officials in Minneapolis quickly got an injunction from a Hennepin County District Court judge ordering the Twins to honor their lease and play the 2002 season at the Metrodome.

And Minnesota Sen. Paul Well- stone has joined with Michigan Rep. John Conyers to introduce a bill that would limit the antitrust protection that allows Major League Baseball to control the number and location of franchises.

Because the grievance won't be heard by arbitrator Shyam Das until well into December and an appeal of the court ruling in Minnesota is pending, it appears unlikely the contraction plan could be finalized by the opening of spring training camps in February.

Baseball officials continue to insist the contraction announcement was not a bargaining ploy intended to influence labor talks with the union, but they appear ready to concede the original timetable was unrealistic.

Though the official agenda for the meeting has been kept confidential, owners also are expected to discuss the proposed sale of the Florida Marlins to Expos owner Jeffrey Loria for a reported $150 million.

Loria's interest in the Marlins is tied to the successful completion of the contraction plan, but he could assume control of the Marlins and allow Major League Baseball to oversee the operation of the Expos until that franchise is disbanded.

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