Owners vote to contract

November 6, 2001

ROSEMONT, Ill. — Major League Baseball owners voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to authorize Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to begin the process of contracting two teams prior to the start of the 2002 season.

Selig would not name the two teams in a news conference at the conclusion of the quarterly owners’ meeting outside Chicago.

“Whatever the two franchises are that we finally contract — and there are more than two candidates at this time — they’re teams that we judge to be not capable now or in the future generating enough revenue to be a productive franchise,” Selig said. “By shifting teams, often times all you do is shift problems.”

Which is to say, relocating a struggling team is not an option at this time.

The Commissioner’s Office will complete negotiations with the potentially affected clubs and immediately begin bargaining the effects of contraction with the Major League Baseball Players Association, including details of the dispersal of players prior to the beginning of spring training.

When asked how long will this cloud of uncertainty might exist, Selig responded: “We’ll try to remove that cloud as quickly as possible.”

Is this a sad day for baseball?

“If that’s true,” Selig said, “then every industry in America that makes adjustments has a sad day. Is it a sad day after the World Series we just had? No, I don’t think it’s a sad day.”

He was speaking from a business standpoint.

Selig did express concern over the jobs that will be lost by the changes.

“The human part of this equation is the one that, frankly, bothers me the most. I’m very sensitive about that. I worry about that a lot.”

The franchises proposed for contraction will not be identified, pending the completion of the negotiations with the clubs as well as the resolution of other details, such as minor league affiliations, notification of employees and scheduling.

Regarding any realignment of divisions that would result from contraction, Selig said:

“Ultimately, there will need to be adjustments.” He later added, “That’s going to be part of what I bring back to the clubs.”

All of these details can be resolved in time, Selig said, for implementation by next season.

However, a small number of fans supporting the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos protested outside of the Hyatt Hotel where the baseball owners met for their rescheduled quarterly meetings (originally scheduled for Sept. 11), holding a sign saying “Keep tradition alive.”

As Twins owner Carl Pohlad was leaving the meeting Tuesday, he was asked if this was a difficult process for him.

“It’s not easy,” Pohlad said. “After 15 years with the team, it’s not easy.”

Selig encouraged all teams to continue to sell season tickets for 2002 and operate business as usual.

Major League Baseball’s labor contract also must be resolved ,and Selig said the issue of contraction is not to be considered a negotiating tool with the players.

“At the present time, there’s not going to be any lockout or any signing freeze. We’re trying to move through life as peacefully as we can. As I said to the clubs today and, as I’ve said since Sept. 11, I hope we can deal with all the things we can deal with.”

Basically, Selig said, Major League Baseball is approaching business as exactly that. Business.

“The fact is we’ve always said we have problems, and problems have to be dealt with,” Selig said. “We can’t make believe they don’t exist. Are the solutions sometimes more painful than we’d like? Yes. Someone asked about the people in the franchises, and that is sad to me.

“If anything, (deciding to contract two teams) shows you how committed we are to solving our problems,” he said. “We made an analysis of the clubs and their ability to generate revenue and their ability to survive. I think that shows a willingness on our part to do what we have to.”

Announcing that Major League Baseball will downsize by two teams will help the sport deal with its financial problems.

“It’s an admission that we need to do this,” Selig said. “I have every confidence that we’ll solve all of our problems in due course.”

Relocation was not an option in the near term.

“At this point in time,” Selig said, “if you just shift a club to another area without any other changes being made, all you’ve done is move the set of problems from Area ‘A’ to Area ‘B.’ I didn’t say relocation in the future wouldn’t be a solution. It may.”

Selig said there was a significant amount of support to contract four teams and not just two.

“I’ve spent a lot of time talking about economics,” Selig said. “The fact is that whatever two franchises that are contracted are franchises we judge that don’t generate enough revenue to be a competitive franchise. If they can’t do that and don’t have the likelihood to do that, then obviously we have a problem.”

The next meeting has not been scheduled, but Selig said MLB needs to “move as expeditiously as possible.”

“We took this step because we felt it was necessary. There’s a lot of soul searching. I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about this and worrying about this. At least from my perspective, I’m the one who has all the facts in hand. I shared them with the clubs now. And they obviously agreed.”

For example, there is one club with local revenues that are less than 8 percent of the local revenues of those generated by the top club and less than 18 percent of the industry average.

“We’re going to have to play this day-by-day and week-by-week,” Selig said. “We know we’d like to do it as soon as possible. There’s so many moving parts to this puzzle. There are a number of potholes along the way.”