PHOENIX (AP) -- Baseball is down to its final two teams.
At the other end of the financial standings, some teams are wondering if their history is final.
On the eve of the World Series opener between Arizona and the New York Yankees, baseball was abuzz with talk of contraction, a term the sport's owners use when referring to getting rid of financially struggling clubs.
Owners, who meet next on Nov. 6, may discuss folding franchises. If the decision is made to go ahead, the Montreal Expos are a sure goner. And because the baseball schedule requires an even number of teams to be in each league, other teams are vulnerable, including Florida, Tampa Bay and Minnesota.
Why eliminate teams?
Because they drain money from their competitors, who must subsidize their lack of revenue.
For all the telephone talk, however, there's been no action.
"No decisions have been made on anything," commissioner Bud Selig said this week.
Three high-ranking baseball executives on other teams, speaking on the condition they not be identified, said no information has been distributed by Selig to ballclubs about the possibility of eliminating teams.
Another top baseball executive, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Selig had not made his thoughts known to his inner circle and was unlikely to do so until just before he decides what he wants to do.
Selig's stance has teams wondering.
"Where there's smoke, there's usually fire," Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo said Friday. "But I really don't know."
Owners have not discussed folding teams with the Major League Baseball Players Association, according to union head Donald Fehr. The union maintains that getting rid of teams is subject to collective bargaining and that owners can't take such action without the permission of the players' association.
Baseball's labor agreement expires after the World Series, and owners must decide at next month's meeting whether they will lock out players -- which would be the sport's ninth work stoppage since 1972.
"All these are moving parts," Selig said. "We have to solve issues in the various areas."
Eliminating teams before next season appears unlikely. Several teams already have released schedules for next year, and all 30 clubs are scheduled to play.
Teams already are committing to charter flights and hotel rooms based on the preliminary schedule, which still awaits approval from the union, which much approve interleague play each year.
While some owners believe they can eliminate teams without the union, most say a deal with the players' association would have to be negotiated on how to disperse players on the eliminated teams, such as Montreal's star outfielder, Vladimir Guerrero.
And given the past bargaining sessions between the sides, talks on any substantive issue are likely to be lengthy.
Folding teams would involve the loss of about 60 jobs for players, and the union would want them to receive the money that would have been spent on those salaries to come to players in other areas.
Under the collective bargaining agreement negotiated in 1996, a year following the 232-day strike that wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years, the high-revenue clubs give a portion of their money to the low-revenue teams. Low-revenue teams want the percentage to increase from the current high of about 12 percent.
When asked about eliminating teams, Fehr responded by talking about revenue sharing.
"We expect the big issue in the negotiations to be revenue sharing and it's very difficult to separate the two," Fehr said Friday.
Montreal averaged just 7,648 fans for its games at Olympic Stadium, and Quebec and Canadian government officials have done little to advance plans for a new ballpark. The Expos' $40 million in revenue is dwarfed by the New York Yankees at $210 million-plus.
Tampa Bay, which like NL champion Arizona is in its fourth season, averaged an AL-low 16,029 and its ownership group has been fighting, with some trying to remove controlling owner Vince Naimoli.
Minnesota, despite a surprising season in which the Twins led the AL Central for much of the year, drew an average of only 22,287 to the Metrodome, and proposals for a new ballpark have gone nowhere.
"I have some deep concerns," Selig testified to Congress last year. "I love the Twin Cities area, but no question we have to have some developments up there."
Florida also has watched its ballpark efforts stall and drew just 15,765 this season, four years after winning the World Series in just its fifth season.
Lawyers for the commissioner's office have examined stadium lease and concession agreements and severance pay for team employees in preparation for any attempt to move or fold franchises, baseball officials and owners said on the condition of anonymity. And baseball's lawyers have examined the prospects of moving teams to new locations such as Charlotte, N.C., Las Vegas and Northern Virginia, the officials and owners said.
While no team has moved since the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1972, and no team has folded since the National League cut from 12 to eight after the 1899 season, Selig openly talks of possible relocation or elimination, but won't commit to any option.
"They are under consideration," he said.
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