Baseball antitrust bill introduced; grievance to be heard in December

Thursday, November 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ A day after legislation was introduced in Congress to allow lawsuits against baseball when teams fold or relocate, Minnesota officials went to court seeking to prevent the Twins from being eliminated.

A hearing was scheduled for Thursday in Minneapolis before Hennepin County District Court Judge Harry Crump on a lawsuit filed against the Twins by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.

Judge Diana Eagon last week issued a temporary restraining order barring the Twins from being eliminated. The commission is seeking a permanent injunction to force the Twins to play in the Metrodome through the end of their lease in 2002.

In other litigation, lawyers for players and owners agreed Wednesday the union's grievance to save two teams will be heard next month.

Lawyers for the players association and the owners spoke with arbitrator Shyam Das, who will hear the grievance filed by the union, which claims last week's decision by owners to eliminate two teams violated its labor contract, which expired last week.

``We have a series on dates beginning in early December,'' union lawyer Michael Weiner said. ``We will confer and get back to him shortly.''

In Washington, Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat, and Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the Fairness in Antitrust in National Sports Act, which would limit baseball's exemption from antitrust laws, created by a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

``Our country has tremendously urgent priorities _ we have the war in Afghanistan, the war against terrorism, and our urgent need for economic stimulus legislation to keep our nation from plummeting even further into recession,'' Wellstone said.

``Unfortunately, however, major league baseball owners did not give us a choice on timing. They have picked a particularly inauspicious time to announce their unilateral, shortsighted and self-serving decision, so we must respond.''

Montreal and Minnesota appear to be the most likely candidates.

Wellstone and Conyers, who is from Michigan, attended a news conference Wednesday along with several House members from Minnesota, hope to exert pressure on baseball owners to reverse their decision.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said last week his sport no longer can support financially struggling teams. Wellstone called baseball's decision to fold two teams ``a way for owners to divvy up profits.''

``If GM, Ford and Chrysler tried that in Detroit, we would have a lot of people outraged,'' Conyers said.

The bill would allow an ``injured'' party to sue for antitrust violations _ ranging from a government entity to a stadium authority to a baseball player. Other parts of baseball's antitrust exemption _ such as minor league baseball, marketing, sales and intellectual property rights _ would remain intact.

``The Minnesota Twins on the northern prairie aren't just a baseball team. They're really a way of life, said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a North Dakota Democrat. ``It's what you listen to when you plant the crop in the spring. It's what kids talk about when they go to their sandlot ball.''

Congress has traditionally been reluctant to tamper with baseball's antitrust exemption. In 1998, a law was passed eliminating the exemption only for labor relations involving the major leagues.

``It's a steep mountain to climb, but we absolutely have to make the effort,'' Wellstone said.

Union head Donald Fehr immediately backed the legislation.

``It is unfortunate that the owners' recent actions make consideration of this legislation necessary, but it is important to make certain that the antitrust laws apply to baseball owners in order to protect the interests of baseball fans, ballpark employees, cities and, frankly, the game itself,'' he said.