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Contraction Woes

Will taking two teams off the field solve baseball's problems?

By Jake Lawhead

After weeks of rumors and innuendo, Major League Baseball owners finally convened in Chicago on Tuesday and "overwhelmingly" voted to contract the league from 30 teams to 28. Exactly which two teams will be eliminated remains a secret. In fact, it is such a secret that Commissioner Bud Selig claims the owners "don't even know."

Yet, theoretically, by the time spring training begins 14 weeks from now, all the following will have happened: Baseball will have two fewer teams; players from the eliminated teams will have been distributed throughout the league in a dispersal draft; minor-league ball players with those clubs will have been placed; some type of realignment will have been drawn up (possibly shifting Arizona to the American League); and a new labor agreement with the players' union will have been negotiated.

"It is not a negotiating ploy," Selig said. "I've read that for six months. It is absolutely not a negotiating ploy."

Selig was asked at his news conference whether there "definitely" will be only 28 teams next season. "That's the intent of this resolution," he replied. Selig stayed away from absolutes. The word "intent" was used a lot.

The good news is Selig said he is not "intending" to institute a lockout nor a signing freeze. So now that the basic agreement has expired and the open signing period begins on free agents in two weeks, everything remains fair game while the owners and players' union continue to try and negotiate a deal in time for the 2002 season.

Even after his public pronouncement that the owners will kill off two franchises in the major leagues' version of Survivor, Selig said all 30 teams are supposed to continue selling season tickets and marketing themselves for 2002.

"Absolutely," Selig said. "They have to do it anyway."

In the 1990s the majors added Florida, Colorado (1993), Tampa Bay, and Arizona (1998). In their eagerness to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in expansion fees, owners awarded franchises like they were Burger Kings. Now, with the money flow slowing, they're singing a different tune.

"We believe that because there are a significant number of teams that can't make it, that can't generate enough revenue in their markets, contraction comes to be an attractive option," Selig said.

Montreal obviously is a problem. The AAA Memphis Redbirds have outdrawn them the past two seasons. Florida and Tampa Bay, two additions from the '90s expansion boom, also have attendance woes. But Minnesota shouldn't be part of the discussion. The Twins, who had their best season in years, actually saw an increase in attendance in 2001. The problem is that baseball wants Minnesota to build a new stadium and the people of Minnesota won't build one for Twins owner Carl Pohlad.

Pohlad is a billionaire who has run the Twins into the ground. Now he sees a chance to exchange his team -- valued by Forbes magazine at $99 million -- for the $250 million contraction price.

This is a franchise that became the first American League club to top the 3-million attendance mark in 1988. Between 1987 and 1992, they even outdrew the New York Yankees.

"The fact of the matter is we haven't picked the final two teams," Selig insisted. "There's a lot of negotiating left to be done." In Minnesota, they're reading "a lot of negotiating left to be done" as baseball's last-chance effort to squeeze a stadium out of the city's taxpayers.

As for the rest of the plan to contract two teams before the 2002 season: Don't hold your breath.

"We're going to have to play this day by day," Selig said. "There are so many moving parts to this puzzle. We're plowing historical ground. This is a first in modern American sport."

Thanks to the wonderful World Series staged by the Yankees and Diamondbacks, many people were lured back to baseball. Game Seven was the sport's highest-rated telecast in 10 years.

Now, a harsh winter is starting to settle in.

No Wins Yet

The Grizzlies collapse in the clutch again.

By Chris Przybyszewski

Lorenzen Wright didn't want to talk about it: not about the Memphis Grizzlies' seventh consecutive loss Monday night against the Golden State Warriors -- tying for the worst start in franchise history; not about his team-leading 19 points and 15 rebounds; and Wright was certainly not interested in talking about the performance of former Cincinnati Bearcat Danny Fortson, who scored 20 points and pulled in 22 rebounds.

"Man, I don't care about no Fortson," Wright said. "I don't even know what he did." The emotion in his voice was raw. The undersized center wore more ice than Jay-Z on his best night. Of course, Wright's ice was for his sore knees and shoulder and his right foot, which rested in a big yellow mop bucket.

The chill Wright was feeling was not just due to his icy post-game treatment. His team went cold in the final quarter again, hitting only 19 points and going 0-3 from three-point range. Wright himself hit for only two points on 1 for 6 shooting. Worse, the Warriors hit over 50 percent of their shots in the final quarter. Once again, no Griz took the mantle of "go-to guy."

"It's tough. It's real tough," Wright said. "We're playing our hearts out and one person is slacking. If you have five guys out there and one guy is slacking it hurts the whole team. Everybody is not working together." Wright didn't name names, but then again, he might not have had any particular person in mind. None of the Grizzlies performed well in the fourth quarter and, according to Coach Sidney Lowe, a breakdown in the final critical moments involved no less than three different players.

A reporter made the mistake of asking Lowe why his squad tried a three-pointer (which missed) when down by five only to follow with two more failed attempts at lay-ups. Lowe's response was due in part to frustration at his team's failure to execute but also to the insinuation that he as coach might have called a bad play. "That's the problem," Lowe said. "When you're on the outside looking in, you don't know what's going on." Lowe said that the play was actually supposed to be a feed from Jason Williams to Pau Gasol for a quick lay-up. Then the team was supposed to foul quickly. If the Warriors had hit only one free-throw, Memphis would have had a shot at the tie in the final seconds.

Instead, Williams tossed the ball to Battier, who missed the three-pointer. Lowe said he wasn't angry at the two rookies, Battier and Gasol. "Can you attribute that to youth?" Lowe asked. "Possibly. Maybe putting the guy in a position where he's not comfortable taking a shot"

But that doesn't explain Williams' failure to run Lowe's play. Lowe didn't comment, but he did say that "it's about the guys working together, trusting each other." Did Williams figure that Battier would be better in the clutch than Gasol? Maybe. But Lowe was quick to point out that games will be won when somebody steps forward. "At some point in time, you have to get angry," Lowe said, "and do something about it."

Even though his English is still a work-in-progress, Gasol knows what he sees on the court. "We allowed so many open shots," he said. "They made the shots. We missed one or two shots." He paused and considered the next bit carefully. " So ... so what? We lost."

And that pretty much sums up the Grizzlies season so far.

The Score


"We tried to run the ball inside. They spit it back out at us." -- Tigers football coach Tommy West on his team's 23-yard rushing effort against the University of Tennessee.

"Some of this is going to have to be addressed at some time. Somehow we have to have some accountability." -- West on officials' failure to recognize an interception by defensive back Glenn Sumter. Tennessee retained possession and went on to score. The official reportedly apologized to Sumter after the game.


University of Memphis defensive back Glenn Sumter is currently tied for 10th in the nation for interceptions with eight for the season.

Tiger wide receiver and kick returner Antoine Harden broke a school record with his eight runbacks against Tennessee. Unfortunately, six came on kickoffs after a Tennessee score.

Here's a trivia question: Who are the three most productive freshman quarterbacks in University of Memphis history? (Hint: All three are on the Tigers' current depth chart.) In order of rank they are: fifth-year senior Neil Suber, junior and current starting wide receiver Travis Anglin, and redshirt freshman Danny Wimprine.

The 2001 Hilton U.S. Open Racquetball Championships will be held November 14th-18th at the Racquet Club and will be nationally televised on ESPN2.

The Grizzlies announced "Britney [Spears] 4 U" night, in honor of the teen queen. Though Spears will not appear, Griz personnel will hand out posters, CDs, and concert tickets.

After beating Barry University 3-1 last Saturday, Christian Brothers University's Lady Buccaneers will face North Florida in the NCAA Division Two Quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Sunday at CBU's Signaigo Field. Junior Forward Missy Gregg scored all three goals. Gregg currently holds the NCAA all-division record with an astonishing 66 goals in a single 18-game season.

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