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Tuesday, February 5
Still 30 teams: Contraction timeline

By David Schoenfield

Following one of the most memorable seasons in history, a season that saw Barry Bonds swat 73 home runs, the Seattle Mariners win 116 games and the Arizona Diamondbacks defeat the New York Yankees in a thrilling seven-game World Series, baseball quickly entered into a tumultuous offseason. Commissioner Bud Selig's plan to contract two teams led to criticism, Congressional hearings, court proceedings and, finally, Tuesday's announcement that contraction will be postponed for 2002 and tried again in 2003.

A timeline of what happened:

Oct. 24: The Windsor Star of Ontario reports that Major League Baseball will buy out the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins after the World Series and fold them. Selig says that "no definitive decisions" have been made on contraction.

Oct. 26: The Miami Herald reports that the Minnesota Twins are a more likely candidate for contraction than the Marlins. Players' Association chief Donald Fehr tells the Washington Post that contraction would only be considered by the players as part of negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and owners, which officially expires on Nov. 7. Owners appear to be unclear as to Selig's plan. "Where there's smoke, there's usually fire," Arizona owner Jerry Colangelo says. "But I really don't know."

Oct. 29: Selig says contraction is possible by the start of 2002. "Can it be worked out for 2002? Time will tell. But I wouldn't rule it out," he says before Game 2 of the World Series. "As the (economic) problems have exacerbated," Selig said, "it has become clearer to me that everything should be on the table, including contraction."

If Minnesota and Montreal were to contract, the leagues would have to be evened out. MLB has the rights to move Arizona to the American League. Pittsburgh could then shift from the NL Central to the NL East. "Until a year from now, Major League Baseball has the right to move us. ... Obviously it's something we're aware of and concerned about," Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. tells ESPN's Peter Gammons.

Oct. 31: Twins owner Carl Pohlad says he hasn't asked his fellow owners for a buyout. "I've furnished a team here for 15 years and put $150 million cash into it, and I'm not going to do it anymore," Pohlad tells the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I'm tired of it. A business has to pay for itself. Nobody in this town in the last 15 years has given as much as I have to baseball."

Meanwhile, a Minnesota state legislator says a top baseball official informed him the Twins and Expos are the two teams under consideration. Selig declined to name the teams, but told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "I have some very tough decisions to make." The Minnesota attorney general's office begins exploring legal strategies to fight elimination of the Twins.

Nov. 4: Luis Gonzalez's bloop single caps a two-run rally in the bottom of the ninth inning to win Game 7 of the World Series for the Diamondbacks.

Nov. 5: The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the board that operates the Metrodome, says it expects the Twins to fulfill their lease commitment for 2002 and threatens legal action if the lease is not fulfilled.

With owners set to meet on Nov. 6, reports circulate that one contraction plan has Minnesota and Montreal being bought out for $250 million each (even though Forbes magazine estimated the Twins were worth $99 million and the Expos even less), with Expos owner Jeffrey Loria buying the Marlins and Marlins owner John Henry buying the Anaheim Angels from Disney.

Another plan had the Marlins moving to Washington, D.C., and Loria buying the troubled Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Nov. 6: At the owners' quarterly meeting in Chicago, owners vote 28-2 to eliminate two teams (although MLB doesn't officially announce the vote, sources say the Expos and Twins voted against contraction). Selig refuses to say which teams have been targeted. "It makes no sense for Major League Baseball to be in markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise," Selig says. "The teams to be contracted have a long record of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable major league franchise."

With the CBA set to expire in a day, Fehr says, "... this is the worst manner in which to begin the process of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. We had hoped that we were in a new era, one that would see a much better relationship between players and owners. Today's announcement is a severe blow to such hopes."

Selig declined to say if there was a chance teams wouldn't be eliminated before the new season starts. "We have every intention of doing it," he said.

Nov. 7: The Players' Association files a grievance that the owners' plan to eliminate two teams violates their labor contract. If the sides don't settle, the grievance would be decided by Shyam Das, baseball's permanent arbitrator.

"I honestly believe that we can get this done by the end of November," Selig says on "Now after November is over you may come to me and say: 'What happened?' But I think that is a realistic goal."

The CBA expires at midnight, but remains in force.

Nov. 10: Jim Pohlad, son of the Twins' owner, sends a letter to Twins employees that reads, "Our willingness to go along with contraction, if the commissioner so decides, has come from a feeling of hopelessness," he wrote. "Within the context of baseball's commitment, when we are posed the question, 'Why should the Minnesota Twins not be contracted?' we are unable to find a plausible answer."

Nov. 13: Florida attorney general Bob Butterworth subpoenas documents from Selig and the two teams in his state to find out if Marlins and Devil Rays are candidates for contraction. Butterworth also wants documents relating to financial statements from the two teams. "Why are they always hiding behind closed doors? They act like they are electing a pope," he says.

Nov. 14: Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduce legislation aimed at ending baseball's federal antitrust exemption.

The bill would allow an "injured" party to sue for antitrust violations -- ranging from a government entity to a stadium authority to a baseball player. Other parts of baseball's antitrust exemption -- such as minor league baseball, marketing, sales and intellectual property rights -- would remain intact.

Nov. 15: Selig tells the Star Tribune that Minnesotans critical of baseball's contraction plan should "look themselves in the mirror." Selig points out the Twins have made no progress toward building a new ballpark, and defended team owner Carl Pohlad, who has offered to fold the team in the contraction plan. "... (A)t some point in the past decade, despite 26 or so stadium proposals, there were chances to do something, and nothing got done. So there are a lot of people up there who have to look themselves in the mirror," he says.

Nov. 16: A Minnesota judge grants an injunction requested by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to force the Twins to play their 2002 home schedule in the Metrodome. The Twins and MLB appeal the decision.

Nov. 22: The Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that Marlins owner Henry has reached an agreement to sell the club for $150 million to an undisclosed buyer who plans to keep the team in South Florida. "I don't know anything about it," Selig tells the Miami Herald. "At this point in time, there is no sale. There is no sale at all in progress."

Nov. 24: Alabama businessman Donald Watkins says he's interested in buying the Twins and working to build a new stadium in the Twin Cities.

Nov. 26: Owners vote unanimously to extend Selig's contract as commissioner through 2006, even though Selig reports losses of $500 million for the industry in 2001 and claims 25 of 30 teams lost money. No timetable is given on contraction and the Dec. 15 proposed dispersal draft looms as unlikely. "Baseball will contract," Selig says. "I can't give you a precise timetable today because in some parts it's out of our hands."

At a news conference, Selig also denies rumors that Henry has a deal to sell his team and the commissioner's office intends to operate the Expos next season.

Expos vice president David Samson said his team has permission to start selling tickets but will wait until "I can stand up and guarantee people when Opening Day is."

Gammons reports that Henry is now interested in joining a group looking to purchase the Boston Red Sox. Speculation is that Loria is the interested buyer of the Marlins from Henry.

Dec. 4: Baseball arbitrator Shyam Das begins hearing testimony in the Players' Association grievance to block contraction.

Dec. 5: The Miami Herald reports that MLB gives permission to Henry to sell the Marlins to Loria.

Dec. 6: The House Judiciary Committee holds hearings on baseball's antitrust exemption. Selig testifies that baseball's financial problems were caused by a "system that is badly flawed," but absorbs verbal assaults from nearly all the committee members. Rep. Conyers, skeptical of Selig's figures that claimed MLB lost $232 million in 2001 -- $519 million with interest payments and depreciation -- says, "The summary information they have turned over to us is meaningless."

Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York took a swipe at the Milwaukee Brewers, owned by Selig's family and a perennial loser on the field. "I've been particularly impressed with your management of the Brewers, because it's always a good weekend when the Brewers come to town," he says.

Dec. 7: Fehr reportedly tells players from the Twins, Expos and Marlins in a conference call that a lockout by the owners is a possibility in spring training.

Dec. 10: Officials from both sides indicate a deal is close that would delay contraction until 2003. The union would acknowledge that management unilaterally had the right to fold franchises but the effects of contraction, such as a dispersal draft, would have to be negotiated. "A deal, if it comes, could come at any time," says Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations.

Dec. 11: A Florida judge refuses baseball's plea to temporarily block a subpoena from Florida attorney general Butterworth to solicit information from MLB about possible contraction of the Marlins and Devil Rays.

Dec. 13: Talks between owners and players regarding contraction collapse.

Dec. 18: A federal judge blocks Butterworth's investigation, saying baseball's antitrust exemption prevents the inquiry.

The grievance by the Players' Association to block contraction is recessed until Jan. 3.

Dec. 20: The limited partners of the Red Sox vote unanimously to sell the club for a record $700 million (more than doubling the previous high of $323 million for the Cleveland Indians in 2000) to the group led by Marlins owner Henry.

Dec. 21: The commissioner's office finally gives approval for teams to release their 2002 schedules and start selling tickets.

Dec. 23: Selig says MLB is prepared to operate the Expos for the 2002 season. "We will make that decision after the first of the year," Selig tells the Chicago Tribune. "If we have to run that team ourselves, we'll do that."

Selig also says contraction could come as late as February. "I had an owner say to me, 'Why can't we do this in February? I said, 'There's no reason why.' It's not ideal, not what any of us would want, but we must continue to move forward."

Dec. 27: The Minnesota Court of Appeals begins hearing testimony on MLB's appeal to lift an earlier decision that the Twins must fulfill their 2002 lease to play in the Metrodome.

Jan. 2: The Massachusetts attorney general says MLB influenced the sale of the Red Sox to the Henry-led group, instead of selling the team to the highest bidder, as required by state law. (The Red Sox are owned by the Yawkey Trust, a charitable trust.)

Jan. 4: The Twins finally name coach Ron Gardenhire as their manager to replace Tom Kelly, who had retired. The Marlins remain without a manager and general manager, unable to make any offseason moves.

Jan. 8: It is learned that Pohlad loaned Selig and the Brewers $3 million in 1995, an apparent violation of baseball's rules. The loan was made by Tempus Investment Corp., one of Pohlad's companies. Selig was CEO of the Brewers and acting commissioner at the time.

Jan. 9: In labor negotiations, Selig reportedly asks the players for a 50 percent luxury tax on payroll amounts above $98 million and proposes teams put 50 percent of their locally generated revenue, after deductions for ballpark expenses, in the pool to be split equally among all teams (currently, it's 20 percent).

The Players' Association does not respond the proposal but will likely oppose any plan that acts as a salary cap.

Jan. 10: Watkins is given the go-ahead by MLB to contact the Twins about making an offer to buy the team.

Jan. 12: The Washington Post reports that contraction is likely to be called off for 2002 and that the Expos could be moved to Washington, D.C., for 2003. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson will likely be Montreal's manager or GM for 2002, the paper also reports.

Jan. 16: The Massachusetts attorney general agrees to the deal that would allow Henry's group to purchase the Red Sox with an additional $30 million contribution to charities.

Baseball owners officially approve the sale of the Red Sox to Henry, who will sell the Marlins to Loria for $158 million. MLB will purchase the Expos from Loria for $120 million.

Jan. 17: "There's no doubt in my mind that relocation is coming," Selig says at the owners' meetings in Phoenix. "It's just a question of when. I've always said that we need to solve the basic problems, and when we solve the basic problems we can then turn our attention to relocation." Selig says Washington, D.C., is a "prime candidate" for relocation.

Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling said the offseason disruption has hurt the game. "The game should be going through the roof publicity-wise," he said. "Owners have killed season-ticket sales for some franchises."

Also, Florida attorney general Butterworth appeals the federal judge's ruling that blocked his effort to investigate baseball's contraction plans.

Jan. 22: The Minnesota Court of Appeals upholds the injunction that forces the Twins to uphold their 2002 lease on the Metrodome. The Twins and MLB appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Jan. 24: The union's grievance hearing over contraction resumes, but was quickly recessed until the week of Feb. 4.

Jan. 28: Sources confirm that management officials told the Players' Association that the Twins and Expos were the two teams under consideration for contraction.

The Expos finally release their 2002 schedule. "We are confident that baseball will be back in Montreal in 2002 and I just want to express my sincere appreciation for our fans' patience and support during what has been a very trying offseason," team vice president David Samson says.

Jan. 31: Sandy Alderson tells USA Today that contraction is still possible for 2002 up to Opening Day. "Once you start the season it would be a little tough, but realistically I'm not sure how much time is necessary," Alderson says. "If it can't happen in 2002, the commissioner is firmly on record in his commitment for 2003. I do believe it can still be accomplished in 2002."

Feb. 1: Baseball owners approve the sale of the Marlins to Loria, even though he doesn't yet have a signed agreement with Henry. Loria intends to bring Expos personnel with him to Florida, including manager Jeff Torborg, GM Larry Beinfest and Samson. The $38.5 million difference between the $120 million Loria will get from MLB for the Expos and the $158.5 million he's paying for the Marlins will be loaned to him by MLB, sources say.

However, if the Marlins do not obtain a new ballpark within five years, Loria would have to pay back only $23.5 million of the loan and would not have to pay interest. If the team does get a ballpark, baseball would get 20 percent of the team's operating profit during its first five years in the new stadium.

Feb. 4: The Minnesota Supreme Court refuses to consider MLB's appeal of the injunction that forces the Twins to uphold their lease.

Feb. 5: Nine days before the start of spring training, contraction called off for 2002.

"While the clubs would have preferred to contract for 2002 and begin addressing the economic issues immediately, events outside of our direct control, including yesterday's court decision in Minnesota, have required us to move the date of contraction to 2003," Selig says.

So, there you have it. Vladimir Guerrero is still with the Expos. Doug Mientkiewicz is still with the Twins.

See you again next offseason.

Information from the Associated Press was used throughout this report.

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