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.
March 22, 2010; 9:59 AM ET
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