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Twins' Mauer deal a cause for celebration

It was a little over eight years ago that Major League Baseball voted to eliminate the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos. Just like that, some 60-odd years of history, fan allegiance and civic pride (okay, so the allegiance and the pride were both limited to small groups of hard-core fans) would be wiped away -- all in the name of (what else?) money. Baseball was going to pay the Twins and Expos $250 million each to walk away, which was more palatable to the other owners than subsidizing those franchises over the long haul.

I went back and read the story I co-authored (along with the great Mark Asher, may he rest in peace) on the day of the "contraction" vote, Nov. 6, 2001. (I couldn't find a linkable version; sorry.) Here was Bud Selig's money quote:

"It makes no sense for Major League Baseball to be in markets that generate insufficient local revenues to justify the investment in the franchise," Selig said. "The teams to be contracted have a long record of failing to generate enough revenues to operate a viable major league franchise."

Why not just move the teams to markets, such as Washington, D.C., that are starving for baseball?

Selig's answer: "We will look at it. ... [But] merely transfering existing problems to another ownership group or another city would only exacerbate the problem, not solve it."

So, here we are, all these years later, with contraction representing little more than a bad memory. The Twins and Expos (the latter reborn in 2005 as the Washington Nationals), are thriving franchises, with gleaming new stadiums (the Twins' will open next month) and rosters that include some of the best young players in the game.

On Sunday, the Twins reached agreement with catcher Joe Mauer on an eight-year $184 million contract extension. A franchise that baseball once tried to kill just gave out the fourth-biggest contract in history and will soon be fielding a $100 million roster.

And yeah, I used the word "thriving" in the same sentence as the words "Washington Nationals." Believe me -- I know how awful the team has been. But I also know this: Last August, the Nationals handed out the biggest contract in history to a drafted amateur (obliterating the previous record by almost 50 percent). The Nationals play in a beautiful new stadium and have, I am convinced, a fan base that will turn Washington into a top baseball market as soon as the franchise gives folks a reason to show up.

We all tend to get cynical about the ugly business side of baseball. I'm as guilty as anyone of putting economics first. But sometimes it's nice to remember how good we all have it. There's baseball in Washington. And Joe Mauer won't be in pinstripes any time soon.

There are plenty of business-related aspects to the Mauer deal -- how Mauer gave up a chance to earn even more by going the free-agent route, and how the Twins may be hamstrung in future years by the Mauer deal, etc. -- and I trust you can find those aspects examined elsewhere.

For now, though, let's just celebrate the Mauer deal -- a rare case of hearts winning out over wallets -- and celebrate, too, the fact that baseball's attempt to contract the Twins and Expos failed miserably.

By Dave Sheinin  |  March 22, 2010; 9:59 AM ET
 
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Comments

What a misinformed article this is, at least in regards to the Twins connection to contraction.

The Twins have two world championships, multiple Hall of Famers and were the first AL team to break the 3 million mark in attendance. They accomplished this feat way back in 1988.

The biggest athlete in the history of Minnesota, Kirby Puckett, played for the Twins. Do athletes with a small group of hard-core fans get streets named after them? Does a statewide vigil occur after the death of a player who only had a small group of hard-core fans?

The entire reason Bud Selig wanted to contract the Twins was due to the team’s inability to get the state to build them a ballpark. That’s why their revenues were low, not because of a lack of interest.

Attendance was down at the time, because the Twins had put together several bad seasons in a row.

Should the Orioles be contracted? They’ve been losing for years and local interest is nowhere near what it used to be.

Comparing the Twins to the Expos/Nationals is laughable. The Twins have a history of winning and developing state icons. Puckett, Killebrew, Carew, Hrbek and Mauer are names that come to mind. State icons don’t exist in places with a small group of hard-core fans.

The Expos left Montreal and no one cared. The Nationals arrived in DC and still no one cares.

If the Twins would have left, a major void would have existed in Minnesota.

One more thing, Joe Mauer was drafted by the Twins in the 2001 draft. Would Mauer have been so excited to be drafted by his hometown team and would there have been so much jubilation in the state, if only a small group of hard-core fans existed?

Posted by: JRLA | March 22, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

The new Twins unis have pinstripes. Just sayin'.

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Posted by: liuandy58 | March 23, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: liuandy58 | March 23, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Don't reward this jerk's spamming of the website by clicking on his link.

Posted by: rbpalmer | March 23, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

"The biggest athlete in the history of Minnesota, Kirby Puckett, played for the Twins."

A lowlife woman abuser is "the biggest athlete" in the history of Minnesota? A "state icon"? Wow.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 24, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

This blog is pretty much Failed. Nice try, I guess.

Posted by: mike8 | March 27, 2010 11:13 PM | Report abuse

mike8 -

Was thinking the same thing. I'm looking forward to the 7-8 postings that we're on pace to get during the upcoming season.

Good job DC and DC sports media. I can't see why anybody would say that this is not a baseball town.

Posted by: dugly2ugly | March 29, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

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