Baseball Blinks

REMEMBER THOSE DIRE pronouncements about how if the state Legislature didn't fork over millions for a new Twins stadium, then the community would absolutely positively lose professional baseball? Well, as any student of the blackmail-and-bluff process of pro sports' facilities financing could tell you, it's more complicated than that. Now that a deal theoretically enabling North Carolina's Don Beaver to buy the Twins has kicked in, major league baseball owners are faced with the public relations disaster of having a $140 million franchise with no viable place to play. And they have begun to blink.

No doubt Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Giles spoke for many of his colleagues when he told the Star Tribune last week that he wouldn't approve Pohlad's sale to Beaver until funding is secured for a proper facility in Carolina. Right now, that seems a remote possibility. Polls continue to show a lack of public enthusiasm for a May 5 referendum that would hike restaurant taxes to help fund a $210 million stadium in the Triad area. Beaver's back-up plan for a new ballpark in Charlotte is equally dubious: With pro football and basketball teams ensconced and a pro hockey franchise just two hours up the road, Charlotte is already saturated. The nation's smallest media market currently hosting four pro sports teams is Denver, ranked 21st in size. By contrast, Charlotte is the 29th-largest market, and the Twin Cities is 14th.

For the Beaver deal to be consummated, three-fourths of American League owners and a majority from the National League must approve it. The owners will meet in Phoenix January 13, but are unlikely to make any decisions until after the Triad's May referendum. If the deal is voided, Pohlad can either endure a status quo he claims is costing him millions, or he can unload the team to a group headed up by Clark Griffith. Given the acrimonious relationship between Pohlad and the Griffith clan, which sold the Twins to Pohlad back in 1985, either option would be a bitter pill for the billionaire banker to swallow. A canny businessman who is not used to being outmaneuvered, he obviously didn't anticipate that the local community would be shrewd enough---and disgusted enough--to call his bluff.

 
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