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Contraction plan dealt another blow by Minnesota courts

Posted: Tuesday January 22, 2002 2:26 PM
Updated: Wednesday January 23, 2002 1:21 AM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- In a decision that could block baseball's plan to eliminate teams this season, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld an injunction Tuesday that requires the Twins to play in the Metrodome in 2002.

The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel will be appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, according to lawyers for major league baseball and the Twins. But with less than a month until the start of spring training in mid-February, it appears unlikely baseball owners will be able to fold Minnesota and Montreal Expos -- their two likely contraction targets -- before this season.

Twins outfielder Torii Hunter took the ruling as another sign that the team would play this year.

"It's getting close," he said. "All you can do is get ready, and prepare like you're going to have a season."

The appellate court said a Hennepin County judge did not abuse his discretion when he ruled in November that the Twins cannot simply buy out the final year of their lease but must field a team for the season's 81 scheduled home games.

Local Look
Twins players and employees did something unprecedented Tuesday, reports Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune. They celebrated a loss, expressing relief and optimism when informed an Appellate Court had upheld the injunction that will force the Twins to play the 2002 season in the Metrodome. 

"Since it appears from the record that money could not compensate the commission for the intangible losses that would result if the Twins breached their promise to play, the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering harm to the public when deciding whether to grant temporary injunctive relief," Chief Judge Edward Toussaint Jr. said in his opinion.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said last week that he still would try to eliminate teams this year and wouldn't set a deadline for calling off contraction. Selig did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

"While we disappointed with the decision of the appeals court, we are not surprised," said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief legal officer. "We will seek a final determination in the Minnesota Supreme Court as soon as possible."

The court didn't rule on the merits of the case but said five times in a 27-page opinion that the lower court 'did not abuse its discretion."

"Of course we're disappointed," said Roger Magnuson, a lawyer for the Twins and Selig. "We think there were fundamental errors in the injunction."

The Twins and Expos were targeted for contraction because of their failure to obtain government financing for new ballparks.

Baseball wants to drop two struggling teams to improve its overall financial health. The Twins had the second-lowest revenue in the majors last season, at $56.2 million, followed by the Expos at $34.2 million.

Donald Watkins, an Alabama businessman who wants to buy the Twins from Carl Pohlad, says he can finance a new stadium.

Jeffrey Loria, the Expos owner, is negotiating to buy the Florida Marlins and intends to sell the Montreal franchise back to the commissioner's office, which would operate the Expos this year.

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe and House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty said the ruling allows time for the Legislature, which convenes in a week, to consider proposals to fund a new ballpark, which would ensure the Twins' longterm survival.

"It's pretty clear that contraction is not going to go forward for next season and rather than fighting everything to the mat, maybe there's a time to say all right and take another look at their decision and their course of action," Pawlenty said.

The chairwoman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome and obtained the injunction, said Minnesota's politicians should use the ruling to plan for the future.

"This is a great moment for Minnesota and thousands of citizens across this region," Kathryn Roberts said. "This lawsuit grants policymakers extra innings. We need to capitalize on this opportunity, solve the stadium issue, and do it in a fair manner that keeps the Twins here far beyond 2002."

Minnesota's Supreme Court, which on Nov. 30 refused to hear a direct appeal of the original ruling, typically takes five to seven months to decide cases after hearing arguments, though it has moved more quickly in some cases where time was an issue. At least three of the court's seven members must agree to accept an appeal.

Toussaint and Judges Robert Schumacher and Roger Klaphake upheld the decision by District Judge Harry Seymour Crump, who ruled the team's lease, which expires after this season, requires the Twins to field a team for the season's 81 scheduled home games.

Baseball's lawyers have argued that the injunction went against past lease disputes in Minnesota and was based more on emotion than law. The court declined to consider several of the issues raised by baseball and the Twins in their appeal because they weren't presented to the district court.

The judges cited congressional testimony by Selig in 1992 and 1993, quoting him as telling a Senate subcommittee that leagues "should vigilantly enforce strong policies prohibiting clubs from abandoning communities which have supported them."

The players' association filed a grievance claiming the Nov. 6 vote by owners to eliminate teams violated the rules of its labor contract, which expired the following day and remains in force. Arbitrator Shyam Das has heard 10 days of testimony, and the hearing is to resume Thursday in New York.

"Hopefully, things will get resolved," union head Donald Fehr said. Asked if baseball should drop contraction for this year, Fehr said: "I'll leave that response for baseball and its lawyers after they've studied the opinion."

On Jan. 4, the Twins began preparing for the season by promoting third-base coach Ron Gardenhire to manager, replacing the retired Tom Kelly. Last week, Minnesota signed pitcher Joe Mays to a $20 million, four-year contract.

Related information
CNNmoney: Baseball's best nightmare
Selig: Team could relocate to D.C. by '03
Twins have a manager; season still unsure
Judge: Owners must disclose contraction talks
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