Fans Cry Foul, Say They'll Sue

Opponents of major league baseball's plan to eliminate two clubs are moving forward on several fronts, with a U.S. senator bringing the issue to Congress and Minnesota's attorney general threatening legal action.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said he planned to introduce legislation Thursday that would revoke baseball's antitrust exemption, hoping to use it as leverage in preventing the elimination of the Minnesota Twins. A 1922 Supreme Court decision ruled that baseball is exempt from antitrust laws.

"This is a good shot across the bow," Wellstone said. "It's a message to owners, you might get people angry enough and lose the exemption"

Meanwhile, Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch said Wednesday he would file a federal lawsuit against baseball owners if they carry out their plan.

Baseball owners want to eliminate financially weak teams that took a large share of the $160 million in revenue-sharing money transferred from the large markets to the small markets this year.

The owners voted Tuesday to eliminate two teams before the start of next season. They didn't say which ones, but Minnesota and the Montreal Expos appear the likeliest. The Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Devils Rays and Oakland Athletics have been mentioned as other possible targets.

Hatch said his lawsuit would claim that owners are violating antitrust laws by collectively deciding to fold two teams to increase the market share for the rest.

"If you had 30 owners of banks get together in a room and agree to buy out two of the banks for purposes of increasing their market share, you'd have an antitrust suit filed by somebody," he said.

Some courts, most notably the Florida Supreme Court, have read the decision more narrowly and applied it only to the reserve clause that ties players to their teams - an interpretation Hatch agrees with.

"The issue today is did those people get together to act like a business and, if so, does an exemption apply to them?" Hatch said.

Hatch said he is talking with other states about the lawsuit, but likely wouldn't file it until owners announce the teams to be eliminated.

There is little support among baseball owners to remain in Montreal, which averaged just 7,648 in attendance per game at Olympic Stadium last season. Minnesota contended for much of the season and averaged 22,287 and drew 1.78 million. The 730,000 increase from 2000 was the highest in the American League.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a brother of President Bush, the former controlling owner of the Texas Rangers, called the decision to eliminate teams "a fairly Draconian measure."

"The economics of baseball are pretty bleak," he said. "And so they've done something a little ingenious, which is to say, `Well, we're going to allow two teams to survive and two teams not to survive.'"

"My guess is it'll be up to each community to show the kind of fan support that exists in order for the Marlins and the other three teams to stay in major leagubaseball."

Bush and other political leaders have expressed little enthusiasm for a publicly financed ballpark in South Florida.

In Minnesota, reaction to baseball commissioner Bud Selig's announcement ranged from apathy to anger.

"Sports owners don't care about their team," said Andrew Tarara, 28, of St. Paul. "Granted there's not a million Twins fans, but there's a few thousand of us. With a new manager, and new faces on the field, I was excited for next season."

"It's hard to care about a team that the owner doesn't even care about," said Sean Murray, 22, of St. Paul, referring to Minnesota owner Carl Pohlad. He would reportedly receive up to $250 million from the other owners if baseball decides to dismantle his club.

By Ronald Blum © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed