Fate of Twins baseball lies in greedy hands

In fall 1987, I sat on my father’s shoulders and watched millions of pieces of confetti cover the faces of Minnesota’s heroes as they rode gallantly through the downtown streets. I watched a shy, pudgy rookie from the ghetto become a starter, then an all-star, then a hall-of-famer. I slept with my Homer Hanky even after the other kids would have called me a wussy for doing so.

I have both “Twins Win” and “Simply the Best” in my video collection. I display the autographs of Laudner, Smalley and Reardon just as proudly as I did when I was 10 years old. I saw pure joy on the faces of fellow Minnesotans when Kirby hit the game winner in Game 6. I watched some of the best athletes this state has ever seen return home to finish their careers with the team that gave them hope: Bruno, Sweet Music, TK, Senor Smoke, Bush, Molitor – the memories still bring a smile to my face. I am a Twins fan, and my days might be numbered.

Major League Baseball owners and Commissioner Bud Selig announced Wednesday that they intend to eliminate, or “contract” two of its teams before the 2002 season. It is reported the teams being considered are clearly below the standards of revenue, attendance and others, as set forth by baseball officials. Among the top candidates for contraction is the Minnesota Twins.

So why contraction? The first presumption is the talent in the league cannot be spread among 30 teams, and therefore having two fewer teams would lead to greater performance standards among players. This would seem to be the league’s best reason for eliminating teams, yet it hasn’t been cited at all. The 2001 season produced more single-season broken records, more playoff races coming down to the last weekend, and the most exciting World Series in recent memory.

The second presumption is there is a lack of market potential in the cities of the contraction candidates. This has been proven true in Montreal due to dismal attendance and general apathy. But are the Twin Cities a dead baseball market? The league clearly does not think so, believing the population of the metro area and the strength of its business community provide ideal circumstances for a team. They have even suggested the possibility of creating an expansion team or relocating a team to the Twin Cities in the next few years after killing the Twins. The irony of shutting down a team to start a new one leads one to reason there must be an intrinsic problem with the team itself.

Do the Twins have a problem? The refusal of Twins Owner Carl Pohlad to bring in developing and veteran talent (which the Yankees and Marlins can claim World Series rings for having done) from around the league has led the Twins to build its own players within its minor league programs. This consequently led to terrible records and poor attendance during most of the mid-1990’s.

However, in 2001 these young talented minor leaguers fought their way to starting spots in the Twins lineup, and led their team to its best record in ten years. The attendance numbers followed, as did the overall enthusiasm for the team as they showed us the way the game should be played – through fundamentals and heart, not a whopping paycheck. They exceeded the expectations of most baseball fans here and around the country, and undoubtedly would be a contender in 2002 with one more year of experience under each player’s belts.

So why contract The Twins? Simple: the league wants a new stadium, Pohlad wants money, and most important, Selig wants to send a message. The league says it can prove a new stadium in other cities has directly led to increased revenue and ticket sales, and after a five-year debate and no progress to show for us, they are willing to turn their backs on the Twin Cities. They will punish our stubbornness by taking our team away and will show other teams they too are not autonomous.

Furthermore, Pohlad is looking to sell the team to the highest bidder, which at the moment is Major League Baseball and its $250 million check for Pohlad’s consent for contraction. In the absence of a better offer, the businessman in his heart might feel he has no choice but to fold the hopes and dreams of all Minnesota Twins fans into his carry-on bag on his way out of town.

The Twin Cities might still have the opportunity to fight this, but our time is running out. With one mayor having lost her job, another waiting for his term to expire, a governor who has contributed more embarrassment to the state than any tangible accomplishment, and the state legislature’s refusal of every stadium idea, the door on our hope is almost closed. Selig, Pohlad and baseball owners are the only ones who have a chance to save our team, and I pray they will see beyond the financial implications of their decision to the larger ethical issues.

Baseball has been criticized ever since the 1994 strike for being a game past its glory days, with even average players making over a million dollars a year. It has praised ball clubs that purchase their entire teams every season and then, after winning a World Series, discard them like old newspapers. The teams that build their talent within, that play for the love of the game, without the fame or the endorsements or big bank accounts, are clearly not worth the time and effort of owners or Commissioner Selig.

The thought of the Twins disappearing leaves me with an emptiness parallel to those still mourning the loss of the Brooklyn Dodgers. I want to live to see future greats finish up their careers, play for the pure joy of the game, and give the children of our city someone to idolize besides a brain-dead ex-wrestler.

 

David Shuler is a CLA senior and Interfraternity Council president. He welcomes comments at davi[email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]