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Who are the six contraction candidates?

6/13/2002

As we continue to wade through one of Bud Selig's creations (interleague play), I'd like to return (with some reluctance) to another of his ill-considered schemes (contraction).

Tuesday, the Associated Press reported:

Management also told the union that folding two teams for 2003 remains a priority.

Montreal still is the No.1 targeted team.

They went through about six candidates for a second team, but did not identify any as more likely than others, the lawyers said.

Because nobody else seems to have done this, let's see if we can pinpoint the six teams they're (supposedly) talking about. Just going by the standings ...

Red Sox: $60 box seats
Yankees: YES(!) Network
Orioles: Camden Yards
Blue Jays
Devil Rays

Twins: Lawyers, Guns & Money
White Sox: South Side monopoly
Indians: Jacobs Field
Royals
Tigers: Comerica Park

Mariners: NPBM (new park, big market)
Angels
Athletics
Rangers: NPBO (new park, big owner)

Braves: Turner Field
Marlins

Expos

Mets: Queens needs team
Phillies: NPC (new park coming)

Reds: NPC
Cardinals: Pride of St. Louis
Pirates: PNC
Astros: Enron Maid Field
Cubs: North Side monopoly
Brewers: Selig Park

Snakes: BOB
Dodgers: Vin Scully
Giants: PBP

Rockies: Coors Field

Padres: NPC

Thirty teams, and 24 overwhelming reasons why a particular team cannot partner up with the Expos.

I've gone over this again and again, and without the Royals -- and the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Angels, Athletics and Marlins -- the math just doesn't work. You see? Aside from those six teams (and the Expos), can you find a team that's even remotely a contraction candidate? Because I certainly cannot.

And yet, a couple of days ago, Royals owner David Glass was quoted in the Kansas City Star saying, "The Royals absolutely are not going to be contracted. Kansas City is not on any list. Fans in Kansas City shouldn't worry about it."

But again, unless my math is wrong, the Royals have to be one of the six teams. They just have to.

This assumes, of course, that the list really does include six teams. The Associated Press might be off by a team or two; maybe "about six teams" actually includes the Expos, or maybe "about six teams" was really five (or fewer) teams.

But for a moment let's assume that the "about six teams" are the six teams I've identified.

The Blue Jays are losing money hand over fist. Granted, they're not losing as much money as they say they are; the Jays are owned by Rogers Communications, a media conglomerate that pays significantly below market value for the rights to broadcast Blue Jays games (which of course is a common accounting trick, practiced by the owners of at least half a dozen other franchises). But they're losing a lot of money, thanks to a crummy stadium lease, poor attendance, and the debilitating exchange rate. Still, MLB doesn't want to completely vacate Canada, and every indication is that Rogers isn't ready to give up.

The Devil Rays and Marlins both play in awful ballparks before small "crowds." But if you thought MLB ran into legal troubles when they tried to kill the Twins, you ain't seen nothin' yet. There are so many legal and political problems with contracting a Florida team that it's hardly worth discussing. (What's more, Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli is publicly adamant about not being contracted, and Marlins president David Samson recently said, "The words contraction and Florida Marlins don't even belong in the same sentence. Fans don't have anything to worry about. ... We want to stop all the talk about contraction and relocation. We are not going anywhere.")

It's silly to talk about killing the Athletics, a winning team with a great blueprint for future success. If Oakland's owners don't want them, somebody else certainly would. And if Oakland doesn't want them, Sacramento -- arguably a bigger market than Pittsburgh, St. Louis and San Diego, and certainly a bigger market than Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee -- could become a fine home for the men in green.

I'm not sure what to think about the Angels. One can probably assume that my employers don't maintain real emotional ties to the franchise, and it's not like the Angels have ever been wildly successful. On the other hand, the good people of Orange County would probably support a competitive team. Beginning in 1982, the Angels drew at least 2.3 million fans in 10 straight seasons, and that ain't too shabby. It's a good media market, even with the Dodgers just up the freeway.

So if you were trying to pick a candidate for contraction based purely on empirical factors, wouldn't you have to pick the Royals? They play in a nice ballpark, but it's one of the oldest in the American League. The Royals aren't in imminent danger of reaching even .500, let alone the status of contenders. And the market gets smaller every day, relative to those served by almost every other franchise; only Milwaukee is a patently worse home for a major-league team.

Do I believe that David Glass is sincere? Sure. That's not to say that he's always honest -- he is, after all, one of Bud Selig's cronies -- but I do believe Glass is sincere about wanting to preserve Major League Baseball in Kansas City. But Glass has also spoken, many times, about the need for a change in baseball's economics, a change that would "allow" the Royals to compete. What if there is not a change, leaving Glass to contemplate tiny crowds and fifth-place finishes for the foreseeable future?

Might he at least consider selling his franchise to MLB for $150 million?

Honestly, though, I don't think it will come to that. In his most recent column, USA Today's Hal Bodley wrote, "In fact, I have a hunch that Commissioner Bud Selig's plan to eliminate two teams is on the back burner. It's unlikely contraction will happen for next year."

I don't often agree with Bodley, but he's on to something. Most everybody has figured out that contraction is a sick joke. I've been scouring the newspapers that cover those six aforementioned teams, and only in the Kansas City Star and the Miami Herald could I find even a mention of contraction. And it's been a story in the Star only because I mentioned the Royals as a contraction candidate in a chat last week, and the local sports-radio guys picked up on it (and they called me a "fathead," which is true only in a literal sense).

What I think is that Commissioner Bud has overplayed his hand. The death threat worked, sort of, on the Twins. But remember, Selig stood on that dais last November and said, "We will contract" in 2002.

They didn't, it's unlikely that they ever will, and people are coming to understand that what Bud says, Bud doesn't necessarily do. But Selig won't give up his public stance, for two reasons. One, he thinks the threat of contraction is a bargaining chip with the players. And two, he thinks the threat of contraction is a bargaining chip with the few remaining cities that do not enjoy the fruits of a high-revenue ballpark.

Does all this mean that the good baseball fans in Kansas City -- and Oakland and Toronto and Anaheim and Florida -- can ignore Selig's blatherings? Just relax and enjoy this great game?

Nope. Because this fathead could be wrong.