Chicago - Saying that Major League Baseball lost more than $500 million
last year and faces significant long-term debt problems, commissioner Bud Selig
yesterday vowed to press ahead with eliminating two teams as a partial
"Baseball will contract," Selig said following a day-long owners meeting
here. "I can't give you an exact timetable today because in some parts, it's
out of our hands ... We're at a crossroads here. We're not doing this to be
mean-spirited. When you have an industry that loses over $500 million and has
25 clubs in the red, that is a business profile that is not only unacceptable,
it is stunningly bad."
One baseball executive estimated the total long- term debt at $3 billion at
the end of 2001.
Gathering for the first time since Nov. 6, when they voted 28-2 to fold two
teams, the owners also unanimously decided to extend Selig's contract for
three years. Selig, 67, who was elected to a five-year term as commissioner in
July 1998, will remain in office until Dec. 31, 2006.
Representatives from baseball's bankers, FleetBoston Financial Corp. and
Bank of America, reviewed the sport's finances with the owners yesterday, and
"this loss stunned everybody," Selig said, "but the debt is even more
worrisome." He denied that the bankers told owners to contract, and that the
issue had been under discussion for some time. "We had already made that
decision. There hasn't been a voice of dissent about contraction in the last
five major- league meetings."
In testimony before a House Judiciary Committee hearing Dec. 6, Selig said
he would reveal "not only these numbers but all the individual club numbers.
There will be no more dispute." Without offering specifics, he said "clubs are
losing so much money that they can't pay the interest on their debt." One
source said even the world champion Arizona Diamondbacks lost money.
Selig again refused to name the teams under consideration for contraction,
although the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos are the likely candidates.
reportedly wants to purchase the Florida Marlins, but that proposed transaction
is on hold, presumably because if the Twins survive, owners would consider
folding the Marlins. Selig yesterday denied that baseball has agreed to buy and
run the Expos. Meanwhile, John Henry, the Marlins' owner, has said he is
willing to become a minority investor in Tom Werner's bid to buy control of the
Boston Red Sox, sources said.
Despite the legal and political challenges to eliminating teams, the
commissioner said that owners were behind him, and five of them, including Fred
Wilpon and George Steinbrenner, praised Selig's hard work and leadership
yesterday. The Yankees owner, who nominated Selig for the extension, said
owners were "prepared to go to battle" on contraction, and predicted it would
happen, "maybe not this year, but sometime down the road."
Whether eliminating teams will occur this offseason should be clarified in
the next few weeks.
In addition to the Congressional hearing, the Twins and baseball have asked
to expedite, by Dec. 7, an appeal of a temporary injunction issued by a
Minnesota District Court judge that forbids Pohlad from folding the team or
selling it to a buyer who wants to move the club before the 2002 season.
Arbitrator Shyam Das has offered to hear the union's grievance against the
owners, which claimed that contraction would violate the collective bargaining
agreement, in early December. And by Dec. 13, Florida Attorney General Bob
Butterworth's office is expecting responses to subpoenas asking for documents
related to contraction from Selig and other baseball officials at the Nov. 6
meeting to determine whether they should pursue the matter on antitrust
"Are we surprised at what happened? Did we miscalculate? No," Selig said.
"Should I have done it earlier? After Sept. 11, I wouldn't have the unmitigated
gall to interrupt the playoffs and the World Series with this kind of
conversation. We have short-term plans, we have mid-term plans, we have
long-term plans. We're prepared for any eventuality."
Selig also addressed the labor talks, which he hopes will resume this week.
"We have no plans to lock out players. That's not even on my radar screen. We
have too many other issues to resolve, and frankly, I don't think that helps
it. We will move ahead with contraction as the issues that right now are
slowing it down are resolved."