NEW YORK (AP) -- A day after baseball owners voted to get rid of two clubs, former commissioner Fay Vincent criticized owners for making their decision without consulting the union.
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," 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 was scheduled for Thursday in Hennepin County District Court, where District Judge Diana Eagon issued a temporary restraining order against the Twins and major league baseball.
The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission sued Tuesday 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.
U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said he would 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. In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court decided baseball was a sport and not interstate commerce, and was exempt from antitrust laws.
"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."
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.
Baseball owners want to eliminate financially weak teams that took a large share of the $160 million in revenue sharing money that is being transferred from the large markets to the small markets this year.
Commissioner Bud Selig said the two teams to be eliminated would be determined later, but other owners said Montreal and Minnesota were the primary choices, with Florida, Oakland and Tampa Bay more remote possibilities.
There is little support among baseball owners to remain in Montreal, which averaged just 7,648 per game at Olympic Stadium last season. Minnesota contended for much of the season and averaged 22,287 and drew 1.78 million The 730,000 increase from 2000 was the highest in the AL.
However, Twins owner Carl Pohlad is close to Selig and could receive far more in a contraction payment than he would if he sold the team.
Minnesota sold 5,600 season tickets last year and is selling season plans for next season. Single-game sales don't start until Feb. 1.
Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a brother of President Bush, the former controlling owner of the Texas Rangers, called the decision to eliminate teams "a fairly Draconian measure."
"The economics of baseball are pretty bleak," he said in Fort Lauderdale. "And so they've done something a little ingenious, which is to say, 'Well, we're going to allow two teams to survive and two teams not to survive.'
"My guess is it'll be up to each community to show the kind of fan support that exists in order for the Marlins and the other three teams to stay in major league baseball."
Bush and other political leaders have expressed little enthusiasm for a publicly financed ballpark in South Florida.
Selig, who introduced the contraction resolution at Tuesday's meeting in Rosemont, Ill., backed the last expansion, which added Arizona and Tampa Bay in 1998.
"It seems to me that expansion was overdone. I think we all know that," Vincent said. "Part of that was collusion damages had to be paid off. Part of it was the pressure from the Senate."
Baseball owners paid the union $280 million to settle three grievances in which arbitrators determined they conspired against free agents following the 1985, '86 and '87 seasons. The Diamondbacks and Devil Rays each paid $130 million to join the major leagues.
"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." -- Mike Hatch, Minnesota attorney general
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