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Selig’s Plan Didn’t Eliminate Teams, Only Fans

Should be some fun, baseball in Montreal this summer. We might even be in for a first: A game played with no fans in the stands.

That’s something for Expo fans to shoot for. A totally empty stadium.

It would serve everybody right.

Certainly it would serve Commissioner Bud Selig and baseball’s owners right.

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No teams eliminated this year, Selig announced Tuesday, and wasn’t everybody just shocked?

Baseball’s feeble attempt to eliminate two major league teams has been clumsy from the start. Owners never did say exactly which teams they planned to eliminate, but sources almost immediately pegged Montreal and Minnesota--the game’s two lowest revenue producers--and Bud and his boys didn’t deny it.

But did they not think someone in Minneapolis was going to go to court and fight? Did Selig forget about that pesky legal document called a lease? Was he surprised the Twins’ landlord didn’t want to give up the income he was to receive this year? So the court says the Twins have to play in Minnesota this year and finally, after being contrary to the end and saying that contraction for 2002 could take place right up until opening day, Selig had to give in.

Since the end of a fabulous World Series, one that raised goose bumps and blood pressure and renewed a sense of security that our country could still have big, red, white and blue sporting events, all the ill-timed and badly conceived contraction plans did was anger fans.

Again.

Baseball owners seem like big bullies.

Again.

What the fans wanted, hoped for, in the off-season, was a long-lasting labor agreement so that fans could eagerly anticipate spring training and not be waiting for a strike.

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The fans haven’t gotten what they wanted.

Again.

But the off-season hasn’t been a total waste for Selig and Co.

There will be contraction. Somebody will go. Some day. Probably next year.

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Maybe it won’t be the Twins. There is fear in the Twin Cities, and it might result in sweeping change. New ownership is being sought since present owner Carl Pohlad was so willing to sell his franchise into contraction. And Minnesota politicians are in a frenzy to find money to help fund a new stadium for the Twins, which is what Selig and Co. want--a sparkling new place for the games and suite holders.

The owners of the other teams with sparkling new stadiums paid for by you, taxpaying fans, are tired of going to the down-at-the-heels Metrodome.

And Selig and Co. have gotten rid of Montreal. Maybe next year or the year after. But the Expos are gone. The owners have already approved the sale of the Boston Red Sox to Florida Marlin owner John Henry. And Henry is negotiating to sell the Marlins to Expo owner Jeffrey Loria. And the commissioner’s office is going to run the Expos for a year. Got that straight? Bud has owners lined up like dominoes.

If only there was such a clear-cut plan to work out a new labor agreement with the players. But there has been no labor progress. There has been labor regression.

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The owners say the players’ union has no say in contraction, only in how players from the contracted teams get dispersed.

No, says the union. The owners’ plan to eliminate teams violated the players’ labor contract, which expired Nov. 7 but which still is in force says the union. Baseball Chief Operating Officer Paul Beeston said, “I, personally, had hoped the union had an interest in helping us solve our economic and competitive balance. It is evident that [the players’ union] has no such interest.”

Of course, it should come as no surprise that the players aren’t interested in helping solve a problem not of their making, but out of ownership’s greed. The players--and their agents--are, as usual, most interested in what’s in it for them.

It appears Selig and Co. aren’t interested in the best thing for the game either. Do the owners really, truly, want a level competitive playing field, or do they want newer baseball palaces and more money for themselves?

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Do you smell a strike?

You fans deserve it.

You deserve it because you love the game despite all this stuff.

You love the game and welcomed the unexpected brilliance of Ichiro. You embraced the magnificent season of Barry Bonds. You bid farewell to Cal Ripken because you connected with a man who took pride in going to work each day.

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You accept that your favorite player is always going to chase money and never spend a career in one place. You pay higher and higher prices for everything--the game, the food, the parking, the TV broadcasts which appear more and more on pay TV and less and less often on free TV.

You show your love for the game by flocking to minor league ballparks and cheering for no-names who hustle out ground balls. You send e-mail in the off-season proposing trades and being endlessly hopeful that Fox is going to get it right with the Dodgers this year, that Disney has changed its mind and wants the Angels to be winners.

You love the game because, after every labor strike, you come back. It takes longer each time, but then something fantastic happens. Sammy and McGwire happen. And you can’t help yourself.

Baseball might be better with fewer teams. The idea of contraction isn’t necessarily wrong, but the arrogance of running roughshod over things like leases and contracts is.

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Selig and Co. made sure the memories of the 2001 World Series went away quickly. Let’s hope that’s all they take away.

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Diane Pucin can be reached at diane.pucin@latimes.com.


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