Archive for Thursday, November 29, 2001

Baseball owners putting fans last

Minnesota’s Pohland living up to his reputation, even at age 86

November 29, 2001

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— Carl Pohlad made some of his fortune by collecting on bad debts during the Depression, and it hasn't been easy for him to top that bit of nastiness. You do something so spectacular so young and then you spend the rest of your life trying to live up to the reputation.

But Pohlad is an industrious villain, and it's hard to keep a bad man down. And now we find an 86-year-old banker in the twilight of his life doing his best dastardly work since telling some poor farmers to go eat dirt. Who said life can't begin after 80?

Pohlad is willing to put his own team, the Minnesota Twins, out of business if it will help him get richer. To help Major League Baseball "solve" some of its economic problems, other owners will pay Pohlad up to $250 million to make the Twins disappear. That's so his $1.3 billion fortune won't feel lonesome.

As for the people who managed to find sunshine at baseball games played in a domed stadium ... they'll have to go back to their old summer sports, indoor ice fishing perhaps. The insanity is that this is not a sick franchise or a failing franchise. It's a franchise with an owner who is angry he can't get a new stadium. And the angry owner is dropping a load of spite onto the greater Minneapolis metroplex.

Pohlad and his fellow spineless owners met Tuesday at the O'Hare Hilton to extend commissioner Bud Selig's contract and to announce that it's a terrible world that they have built for themselves. Their solution to years of overspending on players is to take a mallet to the heads of loyal Twins fans. Surely you can see the logic in that.

MLB will contract, must contract, Selig said grimly. The Twins, because Pohlad is willing to sacrifice them on the altar of greed, likely will go away, as will the Montreal Expos. Those two franchises never should be mentioned in the same breath. Minnesota fans have been loyal enough. Montreal might have supported baseball if it came with hockey sticks and dental plates.

"There hasn't been a voice of dissension (on the issue) in the last five meetings," Selig said of the owners.

That just means they're all heartless. And Selig is implying that Cubs President Andy MacPhail, who spent nine years with the Twins and helped build two World Series champions there, didn't say a peep about the franchise's demise. Sad if true.

But mostly this is about the fans, gluttons for punishment.

This sort of thing will end up being the legacy of pro sports, a legacy of owners and players blowtorching the golden goose. Sooner or later, fans are going to give up on the cold, unfriendly world of free agency, franchise relocation and stadium extortion. But commissioners, owners and athletes have become so smug, so oblivious to what fans think that they can't see this.

Perhaps you've heard of people who want to solve humanity's problems but aren't especially fond of human beings. It's sort of like that in sports. Owners and athletes like the paying customers. It's the fans they can't stand. They can't stand the people who would drive 400 miles to protest losing their beloved team.

You should have seen the owners, eyes locked at some indeterminate object in the distance, walking past the unwashed Tuesday, past the soon-to-be disenfranchised fans who came from Minnesota looking for answers.

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