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Baseball's chief legal officer makes contraction relevationsPosted: Wednesday February 13, 2002 4:45 PM
Updated: Wednesday February 13, 2002 11:11 PM
Bob DuPuy, chief legal officer of major league baseball, said as many as 18 teams were at first on the list considered for folding. The Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos later were picked as the two target teams.
"There were a number of teams that were contraction candidates, including teams from the state of Florida," he said when questioned by committee chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.
The 2 1/2-hour hearing was far less contentious and far more informative than a similar session held Dec. 6 by the House Judiciary Committee, which also is considering legislation to further restrict baseball's antitrust exemption.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who frustrated members of the House panel with his sometimes-evasive answers, did not testify this time.
Among Wednesday's revelations:
• Union head Donald Fehr committed to increasing revenue sharing, but management officials said the players' initial proposal was to raise the amount of locally shared revenue from 20 percent to 22.5 percent, rather than the 50 percent in the owners' plan.
• DuPuy said Alabama businessman Donald Watkins had "submitted at least a preliminary offer to acquire the Minnesota Twins."
• Fehr said the union would consider accepting a competitive-balance draft in the next labor contract.
• DuPuy said owners had never discussed using contraction to get leverage to obtain new ballparks for the threatened teams.
• Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., claimed that just a week before Selig said Jan. 17 that Washington was a "prime candidate" for getting a relocated team, baseball officials had told Watkins "it was a waste of time to discuss relocation of a team to Washington, D.C."
As at most baseball hearings before Congress, there was plenty of color. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., railed against "exorbitant" player salaries and Leahy brought along a cap from his home-state Vermont Expos, a Class-A team.
Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who in 1992 sued to try to get the San Francisco Giants to move to Tampa Bay, joked with Feinstein, who pointed out he was now suing to prevent possible moves of Florida teams.
"We'll trade the Marlins for the San Francisco Giants," he said.
The legislation to eliminate baseball's antitrust exemption was proposed in November after the sport decided to eliminate two teams. The contraction plan was blocked for this year by a Minnesota injunction obtained by the Twins' landlord.
The House committee was to debate the bill Wednesday but its sponsor, Michigan Democrat John Conyers Jr., asked for a postponement. The committee's Republican majority claimed it was because he didn't have sufficient votes for approval, a committee official said on the condition of anonymity.
Its prospects on the Senate side also are unclear. Both Feinstein and the ranking minority member, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, said they were opposed at this time.
The final 35 minutes of the hearing were spent with Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, going over baseball's labor proposals in intricate detail. DeWine backed management's claim of a lack of competitive balance.
"I want a solution to this problem so that every year I can look forward to spring training with a realistic hope that the Indians and the Reds both have a realistic shot of winning the pennant," he said.
With contraction no longer an issue for this year, collective bargaining will resume soon. Baseball's labor contract expired Nov. 7, but neither side has threatened what would be the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972.
"Why we're here is an inability to get a labor deal that works," DuPuy said.
Owners, according to DuPuy, would prefer an NFL- or NBA-style salary cap but have abandoned hope of getting it in these negotiations, realizing it would lead to another work stoppage.
Instead, owners proposed on Jan. 9 to more than double the amount of shared local revenue, after a deduction for ballpark expenses, and to have a 50 percent luxury tax on the portions of payroll above $98 million.
"Our 30 years of bargaining history suggests we're not going to get a salary cap, we're not going to get 50 percent revenue sharing, we're not going to get anywhere close to that," DuPuy said.
Revenue sharing transferred about $160 million last year from the teams with the highest revenue to those with the lowest.
Fehr, when pressed by DeWine, said the union was in favor of more revenue sharing, but DuPuy said the players' plan would have increased that total by just $20 million to $30 million. Fehr said it was only an initial proposal and that the union was awaiting a response.
A year ago, owners had contemplated asking for a competitive-balance draft, in which teams with the eight lowest winning percentages in the previous three years would be allowed to make selections from the eighth with the highest winning percentages. Owners had shelved it because they thought players would object, DuPuy said, but would now reconsider.
Washington's attempt to get a major league team came up repeatedly. Sessions, a law-school classmate of Watkins, seemed to be probing as to whether baseball would allow him to buy the Expos and move them.
On Tuesday, baseball owners approved having the other 29 teams buy the Expos for $120 million from Jeffrey Loria, who is buying the Florida Marlins from John Henry for $158.5 million.
Loria and Selig said they are committed to the Miami market, but Selig repeatedly has said a new ballpark is essential to the longterm survival of the Marlins.