Prior to the talk of the post 2001 contraction, the only time a major league had eliminated teams was after the 1899 season. The National League contracted 4 teams: the Louisville Colonels, Cleveland Spiders, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Senators. However, when the American League was formed in time to start the 1901 season, three of the four cities contacted from the NL had teams in the AL. Of course, the Orioles would last just two seasons in the AL before returning for the 1954 season. According to my research, there was not a professional baseball team in the city of Louisville until 1982, when the NL's St Louis Cardinals moved their AAA Springfield team there.
So the truth exists that a plan was in place for Major League Baseball to contract two teams 13 years ago today. Had the plan been carried out, it is likely the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins would no longer have had MLB teams. The total of two teams that were to be eliminated were the same amount of teams added just FOUR years ago. Was there any discussion about the need to add two more teams when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays were added for the start of the 1998 season? It seemed as if MLB forgot they just added two teams to the league and moved an American League team to the National League after 29 seasons.
Selig was no stranger to expansion as he added the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies for the 1993 season. He added two teams in 1993 and then two more in 1998, but then decides, "we have too many baseball teams so we need to contract." If he didn't recklessly add four teams in six seasons, the thought of contraction would never had existed.
You can make a case that there was no need for expansion before the 1998 season. The situation in Tampa Bay is a mess; there really is no demand to have a baseball team there. Arizona could have been a very good relocation candidate- either for the Expos, Marlins or Athletics. The truth is, Bud Selig was obsessed with moving his beloved Milwaukee Brewers back to the National League. Of course, the Braves came to Milwaukee from Boston for the 1953 season and stayed through 1965. In Bud Selig's mind, Milwaukee was a National League city even though it was originally an American League city (1901 Milwaukee Brewers moved to St Louis after their first MLB season).
Rather than flip a team from the NL to the AL to go with the Brewers going to the NL (like the Astros), Selig thought it would be better to bring in two new teams just for the sake of moving his Brewers to the National League. Because of that, the burden was put on the fans in Montreal and Minnesota. Imagine being a Minnesota Twins fan at that time... Having a MLB team since 1961. Watching the history as the team has its two World Series Championships and 1965 AL Pennant. The current team itself coming off a 85 win season. Montreal was having its own problems. An ownership and front office who completely quit on the franchise. And after dismantling the team, the owner leaves all together, leaving it up to MLB to run and finance the franchise.
Like many other baseball fans, I am glad to see that cooler heads prevailed and that teams were not contracted before the 2002 season. Though the Montreal area lost its baseball team through relocation after the 2004 season, it was better off that Washington got a professional baseball team for the first time since 1971 than the Montreal team just ceasing to exist. It would have been even worse for the Twins. I am sure that the MLB Players Union was not going to take this news well. Remember, at this time, the MLBPA was the strongest workers union in the United States. This was before the reports of steroids started circulating. I cannot believe the union would have just been totally fine with the elimination of 50 MLB jobs paying at least $400,000 a year.
So, finally, let me state the exact reason contraction was even a possibility. Bud Selig wanted so bad to see his beloved Milwaukee franchise back in the National League that he added two teams before the 1998 season just to get his Brewers in the NL. These two teams were probably not needed at the time and the overall attendance in MLB was probably not going to rise because of these two new teams. I think that Selig knew this. That is the only reason that makes sense for him to be so interested in contracting two teams in the first place. Because he knew the two extra teams were not necessary. If I was a fan in Montreal or Minnesota, I would not be a fan of Bud Selig. I still do not understand why they couldn't just switch the Brewers to the NL and move a NL team to the AL to replace them.