Cinderella in Minnesota

October 08, 2002

COMING OFF THEIR best season in a decade, the Minnesota Twins last fall found themselves targeted by the commissioner of baseball for contraction, a death that apparently had some appeal even for their owner. Over the winter, they had a heck of a time finding a new manager and getting other teams to talk trade with them. They play in a horrible stadium. Their starting lineup features such household names as Mientkiewicz and Pierzynski (and a spectacular center fielder named Torii).

But having gained a four-year reprieve as part of baseball's new union contract, walked away with their division title and beaten the Oakland A's on Sunday to move on to the American League Championship Series tonight, the Twins now offer a wonderful Cinderella tale that only the game of baseball - with its many warts - could deliver.

Indeed, the Twins-A's playoffs were a triumph of opportunistic low-budget management over TV, the source of baseball's warped economics and on-the-field disparities. Both teams were largely built from their farm systems; this season, the Twins could field an entirely home-grown lineup. Listening, Peter Angelos?

With among the very lowest revenues in the game, the Twins' payroll this year was fourth from last, at about $40 million - less than a third of the Yankees'. By the way, that New York City team will be watching the championship series from their yachts. (You knew we'd get to that.)

In the end, though, the Twins - and those other scrappy low-budget contenders, the A's - are exceptions that prove the rule. Of the 64 playoff teams since 1995, only four were from the lower half of team payroll rankings, and they've lost more than 90 percent of their playoff games.

For the Twins, sustaining the fairy tale may be harder than constructing it. That test will begin as soon as this year's baseball season ends. Will the Twins finally get a badly needed new stadium? Will more revenue sharing under the new players' contract be enough to keep their budding stars around?

In the meantime, might we suggest that Bud Selig, the commissioner and the Twins' would-be executioner, show a little humor and get on the Internet and pick up one of those "Contraction Kids" T-shirts. We look forward to seeing him wear it tonight at the opening of the American League Championship Series.

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