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Contraction likely by 2003
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06/05/2002 10:50 pm ET 
Contraction likely by 2003
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig asserted Wednesday that the sport will contract by at least two teams before the 2003 season.

In an interview on the eve of labor negotiators making their final arguments in front of an arbitrator as the ongoing contraction grievance case comes to end, Selig said the outcome may have little to do with the issue.

"The owners are still very much in favor of contraction," Selig said in a telephone interview from his Milwaukee office. "We expect to contract, and there will be contraction."

Lawyers for the players' association and owners are scheduled to make their final oral arguments before arbitrator Shyam Das on Thursday in New York. Das has promised to render a decision in the case he has heard over the past six months by mid-July.

"We've conceded contraction," said Jeff Kent, player representative for the San Francisco Giants. "We want to negotiate the issues that go along with contraction."

The contraction issue has been portrayed by some player representatives as an impediment toward moving forward on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The previous agreement expired on Nov. 11, days after the owners voted to fold two teams prior to the start of the then-upcoming season.

But litigation in Minnesota and the Twins' subsequent requirement to honor their Metrodome lease this season, and the grievance, persuaded Selig to delay the contraction timetable for at least a year.

Though baseball never specified definitively which teams would be eliminated, the Montreal Expos and Twins were identified as franchises on the way out because they had the lowest attendance and lowest local revenue last season.

Since then, MLB purchased and is running the Expos and will take the Twins out of the contraction pool for at least a year as part of the settlement of the lawsuit in Minneapolis. Selig also said that the Twins would be removed permanently from the contraction pool if a new stadium is built in Minnesota.

Baseball, though, has said it would not be desirable to contract by one team because it would create scheduling hardships.

And, though Selig said recently that six to eight teams could go out of business if the economic system in baseball doesn't change quickly, he declined to be specific Wednesday about what teams might fold in the offseason ahead.

"There are plenty of candidates," he said.

The players, meanwhile, have been waiting for the arbitrator to rule before commencing wholesale negotiations.

"It's hard to figure out a collective bargaining agreement if you don't know how many teams will be in the league," said Rick Helling, the American League player representative, although he's pitching this season for the National League's Arizona Diamondbacks. "Contraction itself is a huge issue."

Jan Stiglitz, a labor arbitrator based in San Diego, said the owners will probably get a split decision from Das regarding contraction.

Stiglitz said established labor law allows owners of a company to shut down any portion of their business without collectively bargaining that decision. But the effects of that closure -- loss of jobs, benefits and a displaced labor force -- must be negotiated with the union.

"If an automobile company closes down a plant, it doesn't have to get consent from the union to do it," said Stiglitz, who has also taught sports law at California Western School of Law in downtown San Diego. "But the auto workers get a say on what happens to their jobs."

The owners have pledged not to lock out the players this season or post new work conditions. The union has not reciprocated and last month floated the idea of setting a strike date.

The two sides have five collective bargaining sessions scheduled for this month with the next one this coming Tuesday in New York.

Thus far, there have not been any issues of substance decided. The major economic issues have been set aside for the moment while the parties discuss a package of 10 secondary matters.

The owners want to assure vastly improved competitive balance by more than doubling the percentage of revenue sharing, and they want to reinstate the luxury tax on the portion of team payrolls over $98 million. The players rejected the luxury tax and want a modest-percentage increase in revenue sharing.

Selig said he wasn't sure how quickly an agreement might be achieved once the contraction issue is decided, no matter which side wins.

"Only time will tell," he said.

Barry M. Bloom is a regular contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or any of its clubs.





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