The owner-turned-commissioner Bud Selig stood up in front of a large group of reporters in Chicago. Like the weasel that he has proven to be in the past, he was condescending, evasive, and overall, well, weasel-like. He had just announced that the owners had voted to eliminate two baseball teams-although he wouldn't be bothered to say who. As if the decision about Montreal and Minnesota being put to sleep hadn't been made yet, Little Buddy said that they needed to focus on teams who have "had a long record of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable Major League franchise."
Long record, Little Buddy? I understand the Expos. Drawing around 5,000 fans a game means that the Montreal area cannot really support a major league team. The team has had an undeniable knack at losing any real talent they ever had: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, Moises Alou-take your pick. They did finish the "season" in first back in 1994, but no one really got to the playoffs that year due to the strike. If the team of Tim Wallach and Floyd Youmans (and that damn Youppi! thing) goes the way of yesterday's asparagus tips, I doubt many tears will be shed.
That brings us to the Twins. They started out as the Washington Senators back in 1901; the team was moved to the Twin Cities in 1961 by then-owner Calvin Griffith. The Twins were the first AL team to draw over 3 million fans, back in 1988. The Twins have won two world championships in the past fifteen years. After the strongest first half in baseball in 2001, the Twins finished second in the AL Central to Cleveland. They have a core of young players signed for the next few seasons, and appear to be on the verge of being competitive for the next few seasons.
For Twins fans, last season was a breath of fresh air. After eight seasons of mediocrity at best (Roberto Kelly, anyone?), the Twins had something going last year. I wonder what the fan reaction this year would be if the Twins had just finished another 63-97 season. For the first time in nearly a decade, people were looking up the Twins boxscore in the sports section past May. Despite their disappointing finish, Minnesota's Nine were the talk of the baseball community for a majority of this season.
So why in the world would baseball be willing to erase a young, competitive team from a large metropolitan media market? Carl Pohlad, anyone? The details have been explained many times in the local media, so I'll give my take on this situation.
Here's the crux. Carl pays $36 million for the Twins in '84. Right around 1992, after winning two world championships, he realizes that owning a major league ballclub does not guarantee as sweet of a profit margin as, say, foreclosing mortgages for banks. So Carl has a choice-either drop some serious cash to get a quality product on the field, or play bargain basement baseball while (rightly) complaining about the whacked out economics of a sport that does not equitably distribute revenues. Anyone who saw the Twins play knows that Pohlad only pretended to compete from 1993 to 2000. Free agents added to the Twins roster in this era included Jim Deshaies, Alex Cole, Jerald Clark, Kevin Maas, Darrin Jackson, Alex Ochoa and Sean Bergman.
Naturally, the product on the field stinks. Combine that with the Metrodome, which isn't going to draw people just for the aesthetics of baseball, and attendance spiraled. Since 1988's record-setting attendance, the team finished in the top-half of the AL in attendance twice: 1992 (5th) and 1989 (7th). So because Carl did not spend the money to get nine solid players on the field during that span, we became one of Little Buddy's teams who have a long record of failing to generate revenue. Funny. So, being that we no longer make money, we're a viable candidate for contraction-despite the performance of the on-field product.
The dynamics have changed. Baseball owners don't consider it necessary to field a winning team anymore. Fans should come to see the team play independent of their record. This notion works for teams with rich histories-the Red Sox and Cubs come to mind. In Carl's mind, 55,000 Twins fans would've regularly come to see Scott Aldred pitch in 1996 if the Twins would've had a new ballpark. Forget the notion of a winning team-the fans should come anyway.
It is this arrogance that drives life-long fans away. Personally, I have gotten to the point of ambivalence. I love the Twins and major league baseball, but if management threatens to eliminate those teams whose cities refuse to publicly fund stadiums-this cannot be supported. I wonder if Matt Nokes still plays for the St. Paul Saints.