MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Time could be running out on Major League Baseball's plans to eliminate two teams by next season, according to many observers.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced on Nov. 6 baseball's plans to eliminate two teams before the start of the 2002 season. Selig will convene another owners meeting in Chicago on Tuesday. The agenda has not been made public.
Even if Selig names the two teams that have been targeted-- one of them is widely believed to be the Minnesota Twins-- it has become clear in recent weeks that the process of cutting teams entails far more than proclaiming it a reality.
The inevitable lawsuits alone could sink the plans for this year, said two sports economists.
"I think they will be thwarted this year and perhaps any year," said Stephen Walters, a professor at Loyola College in Baltimore. "I think it's a bluff. It doesn't solve any problems and doesn't make any sense, so why would they do it? Maybe to generate some short term leverage toward stadium improvements."
Mark Rosentraub, a professor at Cleveland State University, said: "They will not succeed this year. With the number of lawsuits that will be filed, it will take several years to untangle."
Selig has said he wanted to have contraction in place, and to complete a dispersal draft of the contracted teams' players, by Dec. 15. Recently he downplayed that timetable.
Baseball has about 10 weeks after Tuesday's meetings before players report for spring training, which is not much time for baseball to fold two franchises, disperse their players, defend itself against a grievance filed by the Players Association, fight an injunction granted by Hennepin County, and face future legal challenges.
"As a front office, we're simply going about our business as if we'll be playing," said Twins General Manager Terry Ryan. "That's the way we have to approach this. I think the real timing issues with all of this have to do with the business side-- marketing and sales and business operations, as opposed to baseball operations.
"On the baseball side, we don't really have to do anything physically until we start reporting for spring training."
Dave St. Peter, the Twins' executive vice president of business affairs, noted that one problem facing all teams-- not just those potentially facing contraction-- is that until contraction is resolved, teams can't market their schedules. Which means that they can't schedule promotions, promote their season-ticket plans, or highlight visits from powerhouse teams.
"From what we've been told, and what we understand, mid-December becomes a very critical time frame," St. Peter said. "But do we really know that? At the end of the day, there's only one individual-- or a small group of people, at most-- who know what's going to happen. And that's the commissioner and his people in Milwaukee and New York."
Also problematic for baseball is the Players Association grievance arguing that the owners' unilateral decision to eliminate teams violated the collective bargaining agreement.
Baseball's arbitrator is expected to hear the grievance in early December.
"I've said all along I think we're going to play next year," said Twins union representative Denny Hocking. "I think when they announce the two teams they want to contract, that just gets the ball rolling on all this stuff."
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