Contraction is a touchy subject in any professional sport. No fan wants to hear even the slightest whisper from a league that it is considering taking away his or her team.
In Major League Baseball, if you’d like to know what fans think of contraction, just ask those of the Minnesota Twins, Montreal Expos or Florida Marlins what it felt like a few years ago when their teams' names were bandied about for the purposes of possible elimination.
Gone would be the history. Gone would be the tradition. Gone would be the favorite teams of so many diehard fans.
All of the effort exuded, all of the heartache suffered, all of the gnashing of teeth gnashed would have been wasted and pointless because somebody thought that the long-term viability and sustainability of franchises looked bleak and hopeless.
How are those three teams doing today?
The Expos were bought by Major League Baseball and relocated to Washington, D.C., where they have had several years of strong drafts and are beginning to look like a team that is capable of competing in the National League East before too much longer.
The Marlins have won a couple of World Series in their existence and are about to begin to play in a ballpark that they can truly call home. They’ve dabbled in extremely low payrolls over the years and routinely sell off high-profile (read: high-cost) talent for prospects, but it’s a system that has worked for them. Their profitability shouldn’t be in question once their new stadium opens, and their rebranding to become the “Miami Marlins” once they move in (circa 2012) certainly won’t hurt their image amongst their local fanbase.
As for Minnesota, they moved into their new digs (Target Field) to begin the 2010 season and saw their highest attendance and ticket revenues in their history. The outdoor stadium is gorgeous by all accounts and should keep people coming out in droves for some time on appearance and newness alone. The team on the field is perennially competitive in the American League Central Division and is built from within, which lends itself well to continued long-term success.
In other words, had the league decided to follow through with their harebrained scheme of contracting teams in Major League Baseball, none of the above would be happening today. No baseball in our nation’s capital, no new stadiums in any of the three places, the loss of countless fans (especially in Minnesota’s case since they draw western Wisconsin, the Dakotas and elsewhere as part of their reach) that would no longer have a team to call their own.
Minor league affiliates would have lost players through redrafting, and yes, talent level would have gone up on average, as 75 players would be absorbed back into the collective, but at significant cost to fan happiness and the game itself.
In short, it would have been a terrible idea.
Having said all that, allow me to tell you which five franchises Major League Baseball could do without should the topic ever come up again.
(Kind of a backhanded compliment situation, isn’t it?)