Suicide Squeeze

It's been said before, but rarely has it been demonstrated with such force: The public is way ahead of the media, the corporate honchos, and the politicians. Who would have thought a year ago that opposition to a tax-financed stadium could withstand promises, threats, and nostalgia-soaked commercials? Certainly not Carl Pohlad, who is neither a greedy monster nor a philanthropist, but a consummate businessman following the trail blazed by Chrysler and Northwest Airlines: When there's free money available, you'd be stupid not to get in line.

Of course it's not over. Polls may run overwhelmingly against stadium subsidies, but results flip to almost 50-50 when you introduce gambling (as if official addiction-peddling were any more desirable than raising taxes). And that new "community ownership" pitch--based on the theory that the Great Unwashed will roll over and purr as soon as Carl Pohlad's name is gone from the deal--may yet prove a stroke of marketing genius.

But even if lawmakers cobble together a deal in the next few days, something remarkable seems to have happened. In preparing this special section, we asked a collection of regular people--anyone, that is, except official spin doctors--how they'd feel if pro sports left town. Most were sports fans, some passionate; many had a vested interest in sports. Yet even those we'd slotted as boosters failed to panic at the prospect of losing a team. (There were exceptions: Northeast Minneapolis fan Helen Pierce says she'd pitch in $50 if that would help the Twins stay, which in itself makes you want to wring someone's neck in the team's front office--they should be giving her money, for all the times she's hauled her 80-year-old body downtown to cheer.) And if stadium votes around the country are any guide, this is not an isolated case of stubbornness: What we're witnessing may well be the beginning of a movement.

In this issue, you'll find the responses to our unscientific survey. In addition, Britt Robson looks at what could happen after a deal is done (Jock Itch); David Schimke dissects the media hype (The Perils of Pohlad); and economist Mark Rosentraub lays out the case for taking pro sports out of the Soviet era (Never Give a Sucker an Even Break). Let the games begin.

KIM HINES
   actress/playwright/director

Like others born and raised in Minneapolis, Kim Hines--whose recent work includes a show about Toni "Tomboy" Stone, the first female pro player in the Negro Leagues--has seen her share of pro-sports-team moves, and the memory helps her stay cool about the prospect of the Twins taking off. "It would be like the Lakers leaving," she says. "This, too, shall pass."

"It will be worse for a while because we'll have listen to all these men whine from the top to the bottom. But they'll whine, and then after a year they'll spend all their time trying to get another team. It will be different if the team stays here. If our schools need stuff or the arts community needs things, then the city or the state better come up with the money. Because they have now set a precedent.

"I was a part of [former Mayor Don] Fraser's arts initiative. Communities were asked, 'If you had this chunk of money, how would you want to have it spent in your neighborhood?'... I was in three of those community groups and a lot of people showed up and talked about how sports was fun, but the arts saved their lives. They understood very early that they were not gifted in that athletic way, but at least with the arts they had a way of expressing themselves. And if you wanted to be active you could do dance or tumbling." (Britt Robson)

MARK LANDREVILLE
   bar manager

There's a red neon Twins sign proudly displayed in the hallway from which Champp's Manager Mark Landreville emerges to meet me. Whether or not it stays up rests on the decisions of Carl Pohlad and the Legislature. But for someone whose livelihood supposedly depends on pro sports, Landreville appears surprisingly lukewarm. "I'm actually kind of sick of the whole thing," he confesses.

Champp's doesn't get all that much Twins traffic, he explains: "I don't know, maybe Twins fans don't go out before games," or maybe the Metrodome is too far away from the bar's First Avenue location. Vikings fans are more likely to brave the distance; they make up most of the bar's Sunday business. "And we're totally packed before Timberwolves home games. If [all three] left, we'd probably have to close up."

Yet Landreville is partial to the notion of an outdoor stadium, which he suspects would draw more visitors than the Dome. "Can't they put a retractable roof on that?" (Wittman)

CRAIG
   bookie

Craig is obviously not this bookie's real name; he requested be withheld along with details about his business, which remains illegal in Minnesota. Personally, he says, he'd like to see the Twins and the Vikings remain in the area. But their exodus wouldn't put him out of business: "Except for the few who bet with their hearts rather than their heads, most [Minnesotans] don't bet on the Vikings." Not to mention the Twins--Craig himself won't even invest the money for a ticket. "Until '91, I used to go to 10, 12 games a year. And there were a lot of people like me. But since then, I've lost interest.

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