Sales of Marlins, Expos approved by ownership committee

Friday, February 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The proposed sales of the Marlins and Expos were approved Friday by baseball's ownership committee _ even through Jeffrey Loria had not yet signed his agreement to buy the Florida franchise from John Henry.

The committee convened during a telephone conference call. Major league owners are to consider the deals when they meet Feb. 11, 12 or 13, probably in the Chicago area.

``Jeffrey Loria is very excited at the opportunity,'' Expos executive vice president David Samson said. ``He is pleased and happy with the ownership committee's decision. He looks forward to a vote to as soon as practicably possible.''

Henry, who heads the group that has was given approval Jan. 16 to buy the Boston Red Sox from the Jean R. Yawkey Foundation for $660 million, intends to sell the Marlins to Loria for $158.5 million. Lawyers for Loria and Henry were still negotiating Friday but hoped the agreement would be signed later in the day.

Loria intends to sell the Expos for $120 million to a new entity _ either a corporation or a partnership _ that is owned by the other 29 major league teams.

The $38.5 million difference between the prices will be loaned to Loria by major league baseball, a baseball lawyer said on the condition he not be identified. The New York Times first reported on the loan Friday.

On Thursday, baseball commissioner Bud Selig called for a meeting of major league owners to approve the deal.

Usually, sales are approved 6-12 months after they are agreed to. But spring training starts Feb. 14 is and Loria intends to bring key Expos staff members with him to Florida, including manager Jeff Torborg and acting general manager Larry Beinfest.

Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, vice president for discipline in the commissioner's office, is likely to become the Expos' manager, baseball officials have said.

Before going to all owners, the sales had to clear the ownership committee, headed by Atlanta Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay. The committee also includes Baltimore owner Peter Angelos, St. Louis owner Bill Dewitt Jr., Seattle chairman emeritus John Ellis, Chicago Cubs president Andy MacPhail, Houston owner Drayton McLane and New York Yankees' general partner Stephen Swindal.

The notice sent to teams calling for the owners' meeting said the date and place will be announced later. Baseball was awaiting word on when the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the sport's antitrust exemption.

It was likely the hearing would be Feb. 12 or 13, but the committee had not finalized a date as of Friday afternoon. The committee must give seven days' notice for a hearing, according to David Carle, a spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman.

The hearing once again will put the spotlight on the sport's attempt to eliminate the Minnesota Twins and Expos, two teams with low revenue and no government funding for new ballparks.

On Thursday, the Twins' landlord filed papers urging the Minnesota Supreme Court to refuse an appeal of the injunction that forces the team to play this year, claiming baseball created a ``self-inflicted'' emergency. Lawyers for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, said the case should be not considered on an expedited basis, calling baseball's request for a hearing by Feb. 11 ``absurd.''

Separately, baseball owners and players recessed their talks on a new labor contract after three days of sessions in Scottsdale, Ariz. On Wednesday, incoming Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino told editors and reporters that ``eventually a salary cap will take place.''

``I don't know what he's doing,'' union head Donald Fehr said. ``Everybody knows the players' position on a salary cap. It wasn't recommended by the blue-ribbon panel, it hasn't been proposed in this negotiation.''

Selig has maintained that baseball still could go through with contraction before opening day, but it appears to be an extreme long shot.

Owners approved contraction on Nov. 6, but 10 days later a Minnesota judge issued an injunction, saying the Twins must honor their lease at the Metrodome for the 2002 season.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals voted 3-0 to uphold the injunction on Jan. 22, but lawyers for the Twins and baseball appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court the following day and requested an expedited review and a hearing by Feb. 11. The Supreme Court gave the MSFC until Thursday to respond.

``Apart from completely undermining its credibility, MLB's shifting series of deadlines demonstrates that it has manufactured the 'emergency' of contraction,'' the MSFC wrote.

Baseball shouldn't be considered more important that other matters, ``like reviewing murder convictions and construing the Constitution.''

A St. Paul legislator introduced a bill in the Minnesota House on Thursday for a ballpark that would be built in his city. The bill, pushed by Rep. Tom Osthoff and St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, relies on a city entertainment and restaurant tax of up to 3 percent and a ticket surcharge of $1 or more.

The city fees, along with money from the Twins and private investors, would repay state-issued bonds.

In 1999, St. Paul voters rejected a sales tax increase to pay for a new ballpark.