The unanimous decision Tuesday makes it even more unlikely major league baseball will follow through on its plan to eliminate two teams before this season. The Twins and Montreal Expos are the likely targets, although no decision has been made.
A three-judge panel affirmed a November decision by a Hennepin County judge, saying he did not abuse his discretion in holding the Twins cannot simply buy out the final year of their lease but must field a team for the season's 81 scheduled home games.
"Since it appears from the record that money could not compensate the commission for the intangible losses that would result if the Twins breached their promise to play, the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering harm to the public when deciding whether to grant temporary injunctive relief," Chief Judge Edward Toussaint Jr. said in his opinion.
The Twins and baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who last week said was still in favor of eliminating teams this year, did not immediately respond to telephone calls seeking comment. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which obtained the injunction as the Twins' landlord, planned a news conference later Tuesday.
An additional appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court is expected, but spring training opens in mid-February and the high court would have to move with extraordinary speed to rule before then.
Minnesota's Supreme Court typically takes five to seven months to decide cases after hearing arguments, though it has moved more quickly in some cases where time was an issue. At least three of the court's seven members must agree that an appeal is merited.
While awaiting the ruling, the Twins made several moves to prepare for playing the 2002 season.
In early January, the Twins promoted third-base coach Ron Gardenhire to manager, filling a vacancy left by Tom Kelly's retirement. Also, schedules for spring training and the regular season have gone out.
Toussaint and Judges Robert Schumacher and Roger Klaphake upheld the decision by District Judge Harry Seymour Crump, who ruled the team's lease, which expires after this season, requires the Twins to field a team for the season's 81 scheduled home games.
Baseball's lawyers have argued that the injunction went against past lease disputes in Minnesota and was based more on emotion than law.
In addition to the legal moves in Minnesota, the players' association filed a grievance claiming the Nov. 6 vote by owners to eliminate teams violated the rules of its labor contract, which expired the following day and remains in force. Arbitrator Shyam Das has heard 10 days of testimony, and the hearing is to resume Thursday in New York.
After the appeals court ruled, union head Donald Fehr said "hopefully, things will get resolved." Asked if baseball should drop its attempt to eliminate teams this year, Fehr sad: "I'll leave that response for baseball and its lawyers after they've studied the opinion."
Crump issued the temporary injunction on Nov. 16, ruling that the state and fans would suffer irreparable harm if the Twins do not play this season.
On Nov. 30, the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to take a direct appeal, but ordered the Court of Appeals to hear the case on an expedited basis to leave time for a possible appeal to the high court.
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