SPORTS

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November 9, 2001

Tradition-rich Twins should not be axed

Every person who could fairly say they knew me would swear that I am a baseball fanatic, married to no shortage of irrelevant and miscellaneous traditions that would choke most people with absurdity. I grew up in a town where "Yankees Suck!" bumper stickers were sold on street corners for two dollars apiece, and matching t-shirts were 10. The deluxe versions had "Jeter Swallows" written across the back. $15. I am so thoroughly inculcated into Boston's tradition of hating the Yankees that roughly two minutes after Luis Gonzalez dropped a single onto the edge of Bank One Ballpark's outfield grass to end the 2001 season, my mother called to congratulate me on the Yankees' failure. No kidding. She was thrilled.

Needless to say I reveled in the victory, or rather in the loss, continuously for about two days. I was fixing to keep reveling when someone I ran into on campus told me baseball's owners were planning on eliminating the Minnesota Twins. He mumbled something about a French-Canadian team, too, but I wasn't upset about that. Only after this whole contraction business started did ESPN.com provide photographic proof that there is such a thing as an Expos fan.

But back to the tradition thing, and the Minnesota Twins thing. I swear I am not making this up: the Twins are actually going to be forcibly removed from the sport of baseball, and their players are going to be dealt like playing cards to the surviving teams around the league. The Minnesota Twins. The inhabitants of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the once-proud Kirby and Hrby, the Dan-Gladden-in-your-eye, we-won-the-best-World-Series-ever, newfangled uniforms and youthful pitching staff that scared the Cleveland Indians silly for six months, Minnesota Twins. People are already talking about who is going to get Joe Mays, who Eric Milton, who Cristian Guzman, and who Doug Mientkewicz. Is it right to talk about this? Shouldn't they just be on the Twins?

I know, I know, some of you haven't heard of a single one of the people I mentioned, and are wondering what in the world a Hrby is. Kent Hrbek was a first baseman, I'll have you know, and in spite of a little weight problem was a pretty good one in his time. And I am not about to relinquish Hrby's memory on the premise that small market teams never win championships. Not only that, but give the Twins three more years and a little luck and they'll be in the playoffs instead of the stupid Indians (who are over the hill and can't pitch, if you want my opinion). Then come tell me you haven't heard of Cristian Guzman. The next Ozzie Smith. You heard it here first.

People keep saying something about good business sense and how baseball will suffer from the financial losses. I'm hearing irritating things about how smaller leagues foster competition and unsuccessful small market teams dilute talent. Sounds like garbage to me. First of all, the fall of 2001 has done more for the baseball market than intentionally disappointing thousands of regional fans could ever do. There are embittered, angry fans in Seattle who will be buying tickets indiscriminately for years to come just to satisfy their anti-Yankee bloodlust. There are confused but happy baseball fans in Phoenix who just heard that a seven-foot bird killer and a friend of his are the best duo in 30 years, and those people will be sleeping outside the box office pretty soon, too. And I can tell you there are some jaded old Sam Adams drinkers who have been to Fenway Park in Boston so many times that they don't know how to go anywhere else, so no one should be worrying about ticket sales.

As far as talent depletion is concerned, that's just open vindictiveness. What the baseball owners are doing is obliterating young, talented teams in order to prop up straining organizations like the Colorado Rockies and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. If you're going to axe a team, it might as well be the Rays. Christ, that's depleted talent if ever I've seen it. The arguments for getting rid of Major League Baseball's worst team (the Devil Rays were last in the AL East this year, something like 50 games out of first place) are certainly much better than those for exterminating the Minnesota goddamn Twins.

Baseball, the sport, the American institution, is built on something called tradition, a thing that has nothing to do with sleek teal uniforms, pools housed behind right-field walls, obnoxious trains that go off whenever players hit home runs, big markets, or owners who finance their drug habits (just a pet theory, but it seems likely) by forcing the collapse of small French Canadian organizations. If and when the commissioner's office finally drops the hammer on Montreal, and more importantly on Minneapolis, it will be renouncing the precept that kept baseball going after its participants last got greedy — the awful strike-shortened summer of '94. The sport survived that scare, not without its scratches, and probably had never really regained its stature until this fall.

Now, with new interests opening up, old ones surviving, and the Yankees finally where they belong, the Commish wants to kick his fans once in the head and ask them to ignore it. I can come pretty close, and don't think I won't be heading back to Fenway to make sure everything is in place, but I doubt the Minnesota fans will be so forgiving. Owners suck, Selig swallows. Stickers will be on sale at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, as soon as the Twins clear out.