Hidden behind last week’s news that Randy Lerner has decided to sell the Cleveland Browns to a group headed by Jimmy Haslam III, were rumblings that Major League Baseball contraction is rearing its ugly head. Two days before I asked Browns president Mike Holmgren if the sale meant a possible move of the franchise, Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was in a panel discussion about the Israeli team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
This was at a fundraising event for the Israeli team, held at Harry Caray’s Restaurant in downtown Chicago. The panel included Cubs GM Theo Epstein, former Clevelander and Cy Young Award-winner Steve Stone, as well as former major league outfielder Gabe Kapler.
Reinsdorf, who is also the majority owner of the NBA Chicago Bulls, was asked about possible baseball expansion, both in the United States, as well as internationally.
“I don’t see any baseball expansion right now,” he said. “If it were up to me, I would contract two teams. But I certainly don’t think expansion is on the horizon.”
A couple of fans in attendance wanted to know which cities were in jeopardy. Reinsdorf refused to elaborate. It is not a reach to think he was talking about Tampa Bay, Oakland and Cleveland, among others, although Oakland is trying to relocate to San Jose, much to the dismay of the San Francisco Giants. Cleveland is at the bottom of attendance in the majors, although crowd numbers have been picking up.
Cleveland fans shouldn’t be too concerned about this statement, although Reinsdorf was one of the major forces behind the attempt to contract the Minnesota Twins in 1992 and the Montreal Expos before that. First of all, baseball is in very good financial shape, and its collective bargaining agreement is assured for quite some time. Also, MLB will realign somewhat next year, with Houston moving to the American League to set up two 15-team leagues, rather than the current 16-14 split. Stone assured me that Reinsdorf gave a throw-away line in response to the question. The problem with that is sometimes things like that are thrown out into the open, on purpose, just to start the conversation.
The qualifying round for the World Baseball Classic will take place in mid-September, with Israel in the same bracket as non-powers South Africa, France and Spain. Qualifying teams cannot use current major leaguers, although minor leaguers who have finished their season, as well as retired players can be used. Current major leaguers can play once their teams have qualified.
As for Holmgren’s response? He made it clear that Randy Lerner was adamant at the start of sale negotiations that the team must stay in Cleveland. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson reminded everyone that the lease on Cleveland Browns Stadium is in place until 2029. However, Art Modell’s lease at Municipal Stadium was set until 1999. He took the team to Baltimore at the end of the 1995 season.
I’m just saying …