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11-08-2001, 12:02 PM
AP Sports Writer

November 8, 2001, 11:20 AM EST

NEW YORK -- The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee said Thursday he will fight the decision by baseball owners to eliminate two major league teams by next season.

"This is like a game of musical chairs -- two teams will be left standing and their fans will be left out in the cold," Michigan Democrat John Conyers said. "This unprecedented decision is bad for the fans, bad for the players on the field and the workers and businesses at and around the stadium, bad for the minor league teams that will also be cut loose, and bad for the cities that will be forced into new and more costly bidding wars to avoid being dumped by baseball."

Conyers would be in line to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee if Democrats regain control of the House next year. Congress has traditionally been reluctant to tamper with baseball's antitrust exemption, created by a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"Any time 30 of the wealthiest and most influential individuals get together behind closed doors and agree to reduce output, that cannot be a good thing for anyone but the monopolists," Conyers said. "I will do everything in my power to see that this ill-considered decision does not stand, including introducing legislation to insure that the full weight of the antitrust laws applies to this anticompetitive decision."

U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat, said he will introduce legislation Thursday that would revoke major league baseball's antitrust exemption, hoping to use it as leverage in preventing the elimination of the Twins.

"This is a good shot across the bow," Wellstone said. "It's a message to owners, you might get people angry enough and lose the exemption"

Baseball's labor contract expired at midnight Wednesday, and talks about shrinking the major leagues appear likely to get caught up in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. The union maintains owners need the permission of players to eliminate teams; management disagrees, saying it has to bargain only on the mechanics of contraction, such as dispersing players.

"The lawyers in baseball have been so wrong in labor matters," said Fay Vincent, baseball's commissioner from 1989-92, said Wednesday. "It probably puts baseball off on the wrong foot, and that's too bad."

During the World Series, management asked that players be available for a meeting Thursday, one person familiar with the talks said Wednesday, on the condition he not be identified. Several players were expected to attend, but there was a chance the meeting could be scrapped at the last minute, the person said.

In Minneapolis, a hearing scheduled Thursday on a suit by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission, was postponed until Tuesday. Hennepin County District Court Judge Diana Eagon has issued a temporary restraining order against the Twins and major league baseball.

The commission sued earlier this week to compel the Twins to honor their lease to play in the Metrodome, which runs through next season.

Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch said Wednesday he plans to file a federal lawsuit against major league baseball if owners move forward with contraction. The suit would claim owners are illegally folding two teams to increase market share for the rest.

"If you had 30 owners of banks get together in a room and agree to buy out two of the banks for purposes of increasing their market share ... you'd have an antitrust suit filed by somebody," he said. The owners are interfering with open competition, he said.

Some courts, most notably the Florida Supreme Court, have read the decision more narrowly and applied it only to the reserve clause that ties players to their teams -- an interpretation Hatch agrees with.

"The issue today is did those people get together to act like a business and, if so, does an exemption apply to them?" Hatch said.