Over the past few years, Major League Baseball has been struggling with many issues that seem to threaten the viability of the sport. Among these problems: a dilution of talent, endemic competitive imbalance, labor disputes and franchises that seem to be a perpetual economic drain on the rest of the system.
The league, led by commissioner Bud Selig, has put forward numerous proposals to fix some of these problems. For various reasons, many of these solutions have not been implemented, and those that have been have not been as successful as had been hoped.
That is why, in a meeting last Tuesday, the major league owners voted 28-2 for the drastic measure of contraction, the elimination of two franchises completely from the league. One of the teams proposed to be contracted? My team, the Minnesota Twins.
This was an amazing fall for me and baseball. An absolutely incredible 2001 World Series made up for years of mediocre and unmemorable postseasons. It could not have come at a better time, as America’s pastime served in a way to heal the wounds of the attacks on our country.
It was a remarkable year for the Twins, who had their first winning season in eight years on one of the slimmest payrolls in baseball. Kirby Puckett, the great hero of Minnesota baseball, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. For the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to remember the glory days of 1987 and 1991 with more than sadness. I remembered them with hope. For the first time in years, I looked forward to next season.
The dust had not even settled on this year’s World Series, however, when all of my hopes were dashed. There can be no more champions, no more heroes, when there is no next year. The term contraction is on one level very appropriate. After all, it accurately describes the league’s action as the opposite of expansion.
It seems to me, however, that contraction must also be a euphemism for something else, because the word does not in any way convey how horrible it actually is. Forget the designated hitter; forget astroturf or domed stadiums; forget interleague play and the creation of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. If Selig and the rest of the baseball owners decide to eliminate the Twins, it will be the worst thing that Major League Baseball has ever done. Contraction is no less than an obscene exploitation of the fans and players of major league baseball and a cynical attempt by owners to fatten their own wallets at the expense of the integrity of the game.
Few people may recognize it, but the Twins are one of the great franchises in baseball. The team is descended from the Washington Senators franchise, one of the founders of the American League. In 41 seasons in Minnesota, the team has won three American League pennants and two World Championships. This is the team that won the 1991 World Series, the greatest World Series ever played.
This is the team of Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Kent Hrbek. If you don’t know these names, that’s okay; every team has its own legends. But if you don’t know this next name, you are no baseball fan. I don’t understand how anyone can even consider eliminating the only team that Kirby Puckett ever played for. He was the greatest man ever to play the game of baseball, and I cannot even begin to fathom how cruel someone must be to do this to him and his millions of fans.
So here is my plea to Selig and Carl Pohlad, owner of the Twins: Leave my Twins alone. Don’t take away baseball, We deserve a team. You have seen what great fans we can be. We were the first city in the American League to give you three million fans. But since the strike you have given us nothing but hopeless teams on the cheap. You have lied to us about your plans for helping us build a new stadium. You have lied to us about moving the Twins. You have used us and abused us, and still we love our team.
This year, the Twin Cities rediscovered a love for baseball. It had been a long time coming, please don’t take it away. Maybe in a few years we’ll help you build a new stadium, but the Metrodome is not yet 20 years old. Forgive us for having some other, more pressing things to do right now. Just give us a chance for our team to come back. If you do, I promise that in ten years you will wonder why you ever considered getting rid of us. For our sakes, remember that in baseball hope should always spring eternal.