The Road to Contraction, Part 2

Originally posted two years ago.

As the owners’ vote approached, there were several last-ditch attempts to slow down the process. Potential buyers seemed to pop up out of nowhere, including Glen Taylor, whose name had been tossed around as a potential buyer of the Twins for several years.

It was also noted, in the category of potential legal challenges to contraction, that the Twins had signed a “use agreement” renewal on October 1, less than a month earlier, that explicitly stated that the Twins would play baseball in the Metrodome in 2002.

One of the more outspoken players on the team, Doug Mientkiewicz, had this to say days before the vote:

“It’s frustrating; that’s a good word,” said Mientkiewicz, 27, who hit .307 with 15 home runs and is a Gold Glove candidate. “Last year at this time, I could totally see (contraction) it. But finally, now, we have a direction. We’re so close to, I think, contending for years, not just next year or the following year, but for a long time to come. And right now, it’s looks like we’re not going to get that chance.

“I think we’ll be remembered like that Montreal Expos team that didn’t get a chance to play in the playoffs that one year, when they had Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, all those guys who were there at the same time. That was a World Series title waiting to happen.”

On November 6, 2001, baseball owners voted by a 28-2 margin to eliminate two teams before the 2002 season. The owners did not release specifics on which team, but the writing was on the wall. On his way out of the meeting on November 6, Pohlad refused to comment on specifics of the meeting, but not too cryptically said “It’s not easy. After 15 years of work, it’s not easy.”

That same day, a Hennepin County district judge issued a temporary order barring Major League Baseball and the Minnesota Twins from breaking their Metrodome lease by eliminating the Twins. The order came after the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission requested a permanent injunction to prevent contraction of the Twins based on the language of the lease they had signed.

Though Twins employees were uncertain about their future, they continued day-to-day business as if there would be a 2002 season.

Meanwhile, the fight reached the highest levels of government when the two U.S. senators from Minnesota, Mark Dayton and Paul Wellstone, wrote to President Bush to request that he help by supporting a measure that would end baseball’s anti-trust exemption. Bush, of course, was a former owner himself and friend of Selig’s. Representative Tom Davis of Virginia got into the act as well, but with a different end result than most: “The Twins,” he said in an interview, “ought to come back to Washington, where they belong.”

At 1:00 PM on November 15, 2001, Judge Harry Crump presided over a hearing in which the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission made the argument that the team’s lease gives the judge grounds to require them to play in 2002.

The Judge’s ruling was released a day later. Based on the wording he used, Crump was clearly a Twins fan.

‘The welfare, recreation, prestige, prosperity, trade and commerce of the people of the community are at stake,” Crump wrote in his four-page order. “The Twins brought the community together with Homer Hankies and Bobblehead dolls.”

“The Twins are one of the few professional sports teams in town where a family can afford to take their children to enjoy a hot dog and peanuts and a stadium. The vital public interest, or trust, of the Twins substantially outweighs any private interest.”

The ruling was not the end of contraction, but it might have started the ball rolling. Major League Baseball appealed the decision, but were unable to get an expedited hearing, meaning that the injunction would be in place past Christmas, making it difficult to contract the team by 2002.

On November 28, the same day that Selig announced that 25 teams had collectively lost $500 million in 2001, and the push for contraction was continuing, Bud Selig was offered a three-year contract extension by the owners. After that announcement was made, Selig said that contraction would take a back seat to the ongoing labor negotiations, but it was not off the table.

That decision, along with ongoing hearings in Washington on baseball’s anti-trust exemption, made contraction look like a long shot at best. On February 5, Bud Selig announced that baseball would not move forward with contraction for the 2002 season, though he would still seek contraction in the future. On February 28, 2002, the Twins opened exhibition play with a 13-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

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