August 6, 2012
Get Off the Idea of Contraction in Major League Baseball
For those that haven’t followed baseball’s history outside the diamond, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf could well be defined as one of baseball’s hardliners. While neither he nor Bud Selig would admit it, the two were greatly responsible for driving former commissioner Fay Vincent, Selig’s predecessor, out of office.
Reinsdorf has been a hardliner on other issues as well. He’s a key sounding board on labor issues and has often chimed in on paring the league down via contraction. Whether this was in 2002 when the league owned the Montreal Expos or now, when the difficulty of new stadium construction comes along, Reinsdorf has hit on the “C” word.
When the White Sox owner was speaking on a panel regarding baseball in Israel late last month, he chimed in, again: "I don't see any baseball expansion right now," he said. "If it were up to me, I would contract two teams. But I certainly don't think expansion is on the horizon."
When asked what two teams, Reinsdorf declined to answer. "I have a habit of getting myself into trouble," he said. While Reinsdorf didn’t mention the clubs, the A’s and Rays have long sought new stadiums, and like the Expos and the Twins, both have had trouble getting them. Of course, the Twins eventually did get a beautiful, new ballpark, as did the Expos, albeit after relocating to Washington, D.C.
As a bit of historical context, when the league was looking to contract the Expos, they needed an American League club to come along for the ride, and the late Twins owner Carl Pohlad came to the rescue. The Twins had been searching for a new stadium to get out of the Metrodome for years, and Pohlad had had enough. The problem was that, in 1995, Pohlad and his financing firm loaned the then Selig-owned Brewers $3 million while Selig was acting commissioner. The loan was something that was in violation of a league rule that states that no club can loan money to another; a club (the Twins) looking to shut its doors after loaning money to a club owned by the commissioner made for, well… a conflict of interest.
But Reinsdorf jumped into the contraction fray then, as he has done now. ''We're not doing Carl a favor,'' Reinsdorf said at the time. ''If the Twins are one of the teams and Carl lets us contract him, he'd be doing us a favor.'' The problem then is the same as it is now: contraction is, for all intents and purposes, an impossibility in Major League Baseball. The Twins and Expos weren’t contracted. The league did not downsize to 28 clubs. There are just too many reasons that it can’t happen.