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Stadium Goes Nowhere Without Baseball Reforms
By Art Hughes
March 20, 2001
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When the Minnesota Twins last made a major push for a new ballpark, team officials argued they needed the facility to make them financially competitive with the rest of the league. In the four years since that effort failed at the Legislature, player salaries have risen so high that the team now concedes that revenue from a new ballpark alone won't balance their books. That concession is reflected in a ballpark bill announced this week that would require a panel of judges to rule on whether Major League Baseball fixes such problems sufficiently to make a new stadium viable.

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome opened in 1982.
IN RECENT YEARS, A POPULAR THEME has run through the Minnesota stadium debate. Before construction begins, the refrain goes, Major League Baseball must do something to fix the huge disparities between the rich and the not-as-rich teams.

The idea is to pressure the team to pressure the league to go further than the revenue-sharing reforms that came out of the 1996 collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the players. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics, appointed by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, reported last summer that those reforms have done little to level the playing field among the teams.

Andrew Zimbalist is an economics professor at Smith College and author of Baseball and Billions. He says reforms are needed. But he says the Twins have little leverage unless they can work with other teams in similar circumstances - Oakland and Kansas City, for instance. He says most other cities with baseball revenue concerns have already built stadiums.

"I think if you all sang that tune together it would likely have some impact. But that kind of concerted action by cities is almost unheard of in this country. So I think by yourself it's not going to be terribly effective," says Zimbalist.

Those in Minnesota demanding league reforms have adopted the language of the Blue Ribbon Panel report to call for salary caps and revenue-sharing. But even baseball insiders can't say how such a deal will look once an agreement is reached. Zimbalist says the league reforms may not be as dramatic as some would like.

"You're not going to have the George Steinbrenners of the world saying that, instead of contibuting $22 million they'll contribute $50 million to the revenue-sharing pool. You'll see more modest change," Zimbalist says.

Legislation being introduced at the capitol this week paves the way for a $300 million open-air ballpark - again tied to league reforms. The legislation would set up a panel of three retired judges to rule on whether the league meets the criteria sufficiently to reward the Twins with a new facility. Supporters say they want to have contruction plans in place, and the league reforms would trigger groundbreaking on the project. At least one legislator wants to know what the hurry is. Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, says he'd like to wait and see what Major League Baseball does first.

"Why is it we have to put legislation on the table today, when we can allow MLB to do these reforms, and find out if those reforms are what we will accept, or whether they will really redistribute money?" says Krinkie.

Krinkie says he's also concerned about letting an appointed panel, rather than elected legislators, decide whether the league's efforts are adequate.

Adding to the uncertainty is concern that the players union may not reach a contract agreement with the owners by the start of next season. An impasse could prompt a baseball strike, and any assessment of Major League Baseball's reforms would have to wait until both sides reach common ground.

Art Hughes covers Minneapolis for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at