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WSI News - News Watch

Judge: Twins Must Play 

November 16, from the Associated Press...

Baseball was barred from eliminating the Minnesota Twins next season when a judge on Friday ordered the team to play its 2002 home schedule in the Metrodome.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad also was ordered not to sell the team unless the new owner agrees to have the team play its 2002 home schedule in the ballpark.

The decision by Hennepin County District Judge Harry Seymour Crump throws into question last week's vote by baseball owners to eliminate two major league teams next season.

While baseball owners didn't formally pick the teams when they met Nov. 6, they made clear the Montreal Expos and the Twins were the likely candidates.

"The welfare, recreation, prestige, prosperity, trade and commerce of the people of the community are at stake," Crump wrote in his four-page decision. "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."

Baseball and the Twins will try to overturn the decision before a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, but temporary injunctions usually are difficult to remove before a trial.

"Both sides in this controversy have known from the outset that this case would ultimately be decided by Minnesota appellate courts," said Roger Magnuson, the lawyer for the Twins and major league baseball. "We are, of course, disappointed in this decision, but we are confident that we will prevail at the end of the day. ... We have a very strong case and believe that we will be fully vindicated when our appeal is heard."

Spring training starts in just three months, making it unlikely a trial would be over before then.

"There can and perhaps will be further legal proceedings in the matter (but) the procedures take time," said Minnesota Chief Deputy Attorney General Alan Gilbert, who helped argue the case for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission.

Hours after baseball owners voted in favor of contraction, the Twins and major league baseball were sued by the Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome. The Twins' lease at the ballpark runs through the 2002 season.

Bill Lester, executive director for the Facilities Commission, said Friday's ruling was "tremendous news for people who want baseball to stay in Minnesota."

"It throws a significant log in front of a runaway train," he said. "This will have many more long and torturous turns," he said. "But this is a significant step forward for people who love baseball."

Players' association head Donald Fehr was pleased.

"This decision should provide the sides an opportunity to stop, reflect and consider," he said. "Given the nature of the lease provision, I don't find it a very surprising decision. We'll have to see what major league baseball chooses to do in response to the court order."

Baseball players have filed a grievance to block the teams from folding, claiming contraction violates their labor contract, which expired last week. Arbitrator Shyam Das is to hear that case next month.

"Obviously if the order holds and there is no contraction, then it would moot the case," Fehr said.

Florida, Oakland and Tampa Bay also are candidates to be eliminated, but they have not been mentioned as prominently and the Expos and Twins. The Marlins and Devil Rays might be difficult to get rid of because a 1994 Florida Supreme Court decision ruled baseball's antitrust exemption did not apply to franchise relocation.

Crump, who held a 90-minute hearing Thursday, wrote "there is substantial likelihood that the Commission will prevail on the merits of this case."

"Baseball is as American as turkey and apple pie," he said. "Baseball is a tradition that passes from generation to generation. Baseball crosses social barriers, creates community spirit and is much more than a private enterprise. Baseball is a national pastime.

"Locally, the Twins have been part of Minnesota history and tradition for 40 years. The Twins have given Minnesota two World Series championships, one in 1987 and one in 1991. The Twins have also given Minnesota legends such as Rod Carew, Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett, some of which streets are named after. These legends have bettered the community."

Earlier in the day, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura met in St. Paul with top lawmakers and business leaders and said he will take a more active role in the fight to save the team. Pohlad, who has been repeatedly stymied by the government in attempts to obtain funding for a new ballpark, met later Friday with Ventura and said he would call Selig to find out if baseball would delay contraction.

"What I'm going to bring to the forefront is that baseball, before they make rash decisions to eliminate teams, should step back, take a deep breath and take a year and really think about the decisions that they're making and what the repercussions would be," Ventura said.

He said baseball's other small-market teams should beware of contraction plans.

"My message would be that if it could happen to the Minnesota Twins, it could happen to you," he said. "You could be next."

Among those who met with Ventura were lawyers Mike Ciresi and Clark Griffith (the son of former Twins owner Calvin Griffith), publisher Vance Opperman and printing magnate Harvey Mackay, the nucleus of a group forming to bid for the Twins.

"I don't think it's a problem getting the investors," Ciresi said. "The issue is can you get the right type of stadium package that is acceptable to all parties. It needs a lot of effort to get there."

Ventura has long said he doesn't want to put state tax dollars into a sports stadium. And he reiterated that baseball won't right itself in Minnesota with just a new ballpark.

"Baseball has to fix itself," he said, referring to calls for a salary cap and increased revenue sharing.

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