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Florida Officials Press for Answers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Florida’s attorney general demanded Tuesday that major league baseball officials provide detailed documentation and explanation surrounding last week’s vote to eliminate two teams, the latest in an increasing number of legal and political hurdles arising in response to baseball’s so-called contraction plan.

With the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays among the teams believed to be targeted for elimination or relocation, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth said he issued subpoenas to get answers from major league owners “operating behind closed doors when many of their stadiums have been paid for by the public.”

After owners voted last week to eliminate two teams, Commissioner Bud Selig declined to identify which teams might be folded this year and said others might be folded or moved in future years, again without specifying teams or announcing strict criteria to avoid such a fate. The Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins are targeted for extinction this year, with the Marlins, Devil Rays, Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals essentially on notice to generate more money or risk elimination or relocation.

Butterworth said he wants to determine whether owners are artificially limiting their competition by eliminating teams without considering alternatives. “They should be more open about what they’re doing,” Butterworth said.

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The most pressing challenge to contraction, the grievance filed by the players’ union, could be heard before an arbitrator next week, with the possibility of subsequent hearings in court or before the National Labor Relations Board. The union contends owners cannot eliminate teams without union approval.

In Washington, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has asked Selig to defer any decision about eliminating teams for another year. Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) plan to introduce legislation today to revoke baseball’s cherished antitrust exemption, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) last week introduced a bill that would require teams to provide 180 days notice before folding or moving.

In Minnesota, a court hearing is scheduled Thursday on a lawsuit that seeks to force the Twins to play in the Metrodome next season, the last on the team’s lease. Major league lawyers, without acknowledging the Twins are targeted for contraction, have argued a team cannot be forced to play in a venue so long as the lease is paid off.

The Florida subpoenas demand a public accounting of the contraction vote as well as all documents relating to contraction, relocation and any alternatives considered, revenue sharing among major league teams, profits and losses of all teams, and the economic impact of teams upon their communities.

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The subpoenas also demand documents “assessing the anticipated viability of the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays” when they were selected as expansion teams, potentially embarrassing for owners who may wish to abandon those markets less than 10 years after placing teams there. Major league officials have 30 days to respond to the demand.

“We’ve received it,” said spokesman Rich Levin. “We’ll deal with it in due course.”

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Andruw Jones could have tested his value on the open market after next season. Instead, he decided to stay with the Atlanta Braves.

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Jones and the Braves agreed to a $75-million, six-year contract that runs through 2007.

“Everybody was talking about going to free agency,” Jones said. “That was all just talk. I told the Braves when we were done with the season that we would talk and we would come to an agreement.”

Jones batted only .251 and struck out 142 times, but he also had 34 homers, 104 runs batted in and won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove.

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Mark McGwire said there’s “zero” chance he’ll be like Michael Jordan and come out of retirement.

In his first interview since retiring Sunday, McGwire told ESPN that his mind is made up.

“Michael Jordan can control the game,” McGwire said. “When you’re a power hitter, you’re not in control of anything. There’s absolutely no way. Zero.”

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Jose Canseco was arrested Tuesday on charges he and his twin brother, Ozzie, got into a nightclub fight in Miami that left one man with a broken nose and another needing 20 stitches in his lip.

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The Angels exercised their $500,000 option on infielder Benji Gil and activated Mo Vaughn from the 60-day disabled list.

Gil had signed a one-year contract for 2001 and would have received a $25,000 buyout if Anaheim had declined the option.

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New Texas General Manager John Hart hired Terry Francona as the bench coach to Manager Jerry Narron.

Dom Chiti and Jay Robertson, both major league scouts for Cleveland, were named special assistants.

The Rangers also declined a $2.5-million option on left-hander Justin Thompson and will pay a $1-million buyout.

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Boston Red Sox infielder Mike Lansing filed for free agency after the team declined his $6-million option and elected to pay a $1.25-million buyout. Lansing hit .250 with eight homers and 34 RBIs.

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Lawyers for baseball umpires and owners will argue their cases in federal court in Philadelphia on Nov. 27 in the dispute over 22 umps who haven’t worked a game since September 1999.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.


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