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Court Ruling Boosts Twins and Expos

January 23, 2002|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In yet another sign that the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos should live to play on opening day, a Minnesota court Tuesday upheld an injunction that forbids major league owners from dissolving the Twins before their Metrodome lease expires.

While owners vowed to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, it is highly unlikely that an appeal could be decided within three weeks, when spring training camps open.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig last week said owners remained committed to eliminating teams before the season, refusing to rule out the improbable scenario of yanking players off the field during spring training and folding their teams. Selig did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

While owners are not expected to abandon their plan to eliminate two teams, Selig could announce a one-year postponement of that plan within two weeks, a source said Tuesday.

That decision could accompany approval of the pending sale of the Florida Marlins to Montreal owner Jeffrey Loria, after which Selig's office would assume control of the Expos and run the franchise for the 2002 season.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a district court ruling that the Metrodome's operators could suffer "irreparable harm" if the Twins bought out the final year of their stadium lease rather than fielding a team. The original injunction was granted 10 days after owners voted to eliminate two teams before the coming season, with the Expos and Twins the likely targets.

By postponing that plan for one year, owners could threaten the elimination of the Marlins, Twins and Oakland Athletics, all in search of a new stadium and none bound to a lease beyond the coming season. One of those teams--or the Expos if not folded--also could move to Washington.

The players' union also objected to the owners' plan. The union contends that, under the terms of the expired labor agreement, owners cannot eliminate teams without union approval.

A union grievance, currently before an arbitrator, would become moot if players and owners negotiate conditions for folding teams as part of a new collective bargaining agreement.

"It's pretty clear that contraction is not going to go forward for next season and rather than fighting everything to the mat, maybe there's a time to say all right and take another look at their decision and their course of action," Minnesota House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty told the Associated Press.

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