Congress calls hearing on baseball's antitrust exemption

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ With contraction on hold and owners focused on extending Bud Selig's term as commissioner, the House Judiciary Committee announced Tuesday it will hold a hearing next week on baseball's antitrust exemption.

Selig, union head Donald Fehr and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura are among the possible witnesses who may testify at the Dec. 6 session in Washington.

Following the decision by baseball owners to eliminate two teams before the start of next season, legislation was introduced to strip baseball of its exemption from antitrust laws, granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922.

That legislation has enabled baseball owners to prevent franchise moves, and no team has relocated since the expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.

Committee spokeswoman Dena Graziano said the witness list will not be finalized until later this week.

While the committee announced the hearing, baseball owners were gathering for the second time in three weeks.

Selig, whose family has controlled the Milwaukee Brewers since 1970, was expected to get at least another three years on his term as commissioner, according to a high-ranking team official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Little or no opposition to the move is expected from owners, many indebted to Selig for his past assistance with team problems. He was elected to a five-year term in July 1998.

When owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams, they didn't select them. While the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos are the most likely candidates, according to many owners, contraction ground to a halt 10 days after the vote when a Minnesota judge issued a temporary injunction that forced the Twins to fulfill their lease next season at the Metrodome.

Selig did not want to ask owners to make any decisions on contraction at this meeting because the injunction was in place, a high-ranking baseball official said Monday on the condition he not be identified.

The Twins and baseball have asked the Minnesota Supreme Court for a speedy review of their request to lift the injunction, requesting a hearing no later than Dec. 7. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, must file its response by Wednesday.

Owners want to eliminate the Expos, who averaged just 7,648 fans a game at Olympic Stadium this year.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad, frustrated at the Minnesota government's refusal to fund a new ballpark, is willing to have his team eliminated in exchange for a contraction payment, even though his team has been profitable in recent years and raised its average attendance from 13,083 in 2000 to 22,287 this year.

Meanwhile, no decisions have been made on the possible sales of the Florida Marlins or Anaheim Angels. Expos owner Jeffrey Loria has talked to Florida owner John Henry about buying the Marlins, but has not reached an agreement, the baseball official said.

Henry has expressed interest in buying the Angels from The Walt Disney Co., but those talks haven't progressed, and Henry has said he is willing to become a minority investor in Tom Werner's bid to buy control of the Boston Red Sox.

Meanwhile, the players and owners still were unable to agree on dates for arbitrator Shyam Das to hear the grievance the union filed to stop contraction. Players claim the Nov. 6 decision violates the terms of their expired labor agreement, and that owners can't eliminate clubs without the union's consent.

Das probably will have to arbitrate the timing of the arbitration when he speaks with the sides Wednesday.

``Assuming we haven't reached an agreement, we're going to go to him and ask for some help,'' said Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official.

Partly because of the contraction debate, there has been little negotiation between owners and players on a labor contract to replace the one that expired Nov. 7.

Some Twins fans planned to attend the owners' meeting at O'Hare International Airport with the intent of giving Selig petitions with more than 110,000 signatures urging the team be saved.

Paul Ridgeway, one of the organizers, and former-Twin Frank Quilici said their caravan planned to stop in Selig's hometown of Milwaukee.

``Here's a message to you and the owners: Think twice about doing this to the Minnesota Twins,'' Quilici said.

Ridgeway said if Selig refused to meet them in Chicago, they'll park a motor home outside his office in Milwaukee on Wednesday.