Major League Baseball officials are so alarmed by recent equipment breakdowns at Chase Field that they might require the Arizona Diamondbacks to leave Phoenix unless the county government pays for millions of dollars in stadium repairs, an attorney for the team warned Tuesday.
It's the first time the team has indicated that MLB is directly involved in the dispute, ramping up pressure in its long-running lawsuit against Maricopa County.
“If Major League Baseball decides they want to create issues for us, there might not be baseball at all in Arizona.”
Leo Beus, Diamondbacks attorney
County officials counter, however, that recent pipe failures being pointed out by the team were the responsibility of the Diamondbacks and were subject to routine maintenance that doesn't apply to the bigger argument over major repairs.
Leo Beus, an attorney for the team, raised the MLB specter as he argued to a Superior Court judge that the case should be decided quickly because the team is "facing a crisis."
"Major League Baseball ... they're very, very concerned," Beus said, noting he has spoken with six of the league's top lawyers. "If Major League Baseball decides they want to create issues for us, there might not be baseball at all in Arizona."
"We'd like to keep the franchise in place, we'd like to make peace with Major League Baseball, not that we're at war," he continued. "We don't know where that's going to come out. They're very concerned."
Beus cited two incidents in June: a sanitation pipe that burst in an office, and an air-conditioning system that failed after a downtown-wide power surge.
The air-conditioning pipes flooded suites, restaurants, an office and a gym hours before a game, drawing complaints from fans who got wet or had to sit in warm indoor temperatures, he said.
“The Diamondbacks are the facility manager. When a pipe breaks, that is a Diamondbacks problem.”
Cameron Artigue, attorney for Maricopa County
Because of the breakdowns, MLB engineers will visit in a few days to evaluate Chase Field, Beus said.
League spokesman Matt Bourne declined comment on Beus' claims.
However, Cameron Artigue, a private attorney representing Maricopa County, called the Diamondbacks argument a red herring.
"This (lawsuit) has nothing to do with the water leaks and the merits of Chase Field," he said. "The Diamondbacks are the facility manager. When a pipe breaks, that is a Diamondbacks problem. And that is, in fact, what happened. They got out the mops and they mopped it up, and life goes on. It's a big facility and sometimes pipes break. So what?"
County spokesman Fields Moseley said the team is publicizing the incidents "to try to bolster the point that, 'Oh we're horrible landlords.' "
Moseley pointed to contracts outlining the team's responsibility for the chiller system and questioned why Diamondbacks officials did not notify the county about the flooding, bring the issue up at a facilities meeting, or request payment for repairs if the team believes the county is on the hook.
Tuesday's court hearing was supposed to determine whether the team's grievances would be decided in court or through arbitration, which typically is a faster and less expensive process to resolve disputes.
If the Diamondbacks and county go to arbitration, the main sticking point is timing.
Grady Gammage Jr., also representing the county, said depositions could take months, leading to a start date for arbitration in February or beyond.
That's too long for the Diamondbacks and MLB to wait, Beus argued.
Should the parties go to arbitration, another question is whether it will be private, as is usual, or open to the public, since it is a matter of taxpayer concern.
The Diamondbacks are "crystal clear" about wanting to conduct the negotiations in the open, Beus said.
"The owner of the Diamondbacks (Ken Kendrick) wants the public to have access to everything. That's been an important piece of all of our negotiations," he told The Arizona Republic.
The county has not yet fully committed to the idea.
"We have no objection to transparency," Gammage said, but "frankly, that will slow it down" because attorneys won't be as open with each other if news reporters are listening.
Even if the proceedings are private, he said, the county Board of Supervisors will not be able to sign a deal with the team without discussing it at a public meeting.
Superior Court Judge Karen Mullins said she would decide within two weeks whether to hold a trial or send the case to arbitration.