Selig: Washington the 'prime candidate' for a relocated team

Thursday, January 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHOENIX (AP) _ Major league baseball team could move a team as early as 2003, with commissioner Bud Selig saying that Washington had the best chance of landing one.

A day after owners approved the record $660 million sale of the Boston Red Sox, setting in motion planned sales of the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos, Selig said Thursday this was just the beginning of major shifts, a process likely to extend into 2003.

Selig said he believes ``relocation is coming in the near future'' but his staff said no move will take place for this season. Washington, without a team since the expansion Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season, has been the most aggressive area pursuing a franchise.

``Given the demographics of the area and the number of people who want it, I would say it's the prime candidate,'' Selig said after the two-day meeting ended.

With baseball's contraction plan stalled, Montreal appears to be the most likely candidate for a 2003 move.

John Henry heads the group buying the Red Sox and plans to sell the Marlins for $158 million to Jeffrey Loria, the current Expos owner. Loria intends to sell his team to the commissioner's office for $120 million.

The commissioner's office intends to operate the Expos for one season at most, according to Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief legal officer.

``I'd be shocked if it was for more than one year,'' DuPuy said.

Baseball's original plan was to eliminate two teams before the start of this season _ most likely Montreal and Minnesota _ but that plan has been blocked by an injunction in Minnesota.

An option remains to eliminate two teams in 2003, including the Expos, and move another franchise. Anaheim, Oakland and Tampa Bay have been mentioned as possibilities by owners.

Players' association head Donald Fehr addressed owners _ the first time since the union was formed in 1966 that management extended an invitation to a meeting off all teams. Fehr was pleased and, including questions, spoke to owners for nearly two hours.

Fehr said players have not considered striking this season and it was positive that owners say they do not intend to lock out players when spring training starts. He did not detail his remarks to owners but gave a general assessment of the offseason turmoil.

``We have had since the end of the World Series a number of developments which have necessitated an extended period of press coverage that hasn't been all that happy for baseball,'' Fehr said.

After lengthy negotiations between the Red Sox and the Massachusetts attorney general that ended just hours before the meeting's start Wednesday, owners approved the Boston deal 29-0, with the New York Yankees abstaining.

``What I'd really like to do is address the fans of the Boston Red Sox and say to them that we are bringing to Boston what I would call sort of a dream team of baseball people,'' Henry said. ``Baseball runs in our veins, just like it does in yours.''

Selig hopes the Red Sox sale closes by the end of February and that the other deals can be approved before spring training starts in mid-February. With baseball's contraction plan stalled, the commissioner's office appears likely to operate the Expos this season.

``We haven't made a final decision yet, but certainly that is one of the things under consideration. Absolutely,'' Selig said.

The price of the Expos means Twins owner Carl Pohlad is likely to ask for more than $120 million from Donald Watkins, the Alabama businessman who wants to buy the Twins to save the team from extinction.

Henry's deal for the Red Sox, who own Fenway Park and 80 percent of the New England Sports Network, more than doubles the previous record price for a baseball franchise _ the $323 million paid by Larry Dolan for the Cleveland Indians in 2000. Henry's group also will assume $40 million in debt.

Boston's deal has been filled with controversy. The team's current owners spurned a $755 million offer from New York lawyer Miles Prentice and a $750 million bid from Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Charles Dolan _ Larry Dolan's brother.

The Jean R. Yawkey Foundation, which owns a 53 percent controlling interest in the Red Sox, will receive $410 million from the Henry group, which includes a number of baseball insiders who are friends of Selig: former San Diego owner Tom Werner, former Padres and Baltimore Orioles president Larry Lucchino and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

``I'm not concerned about the way John Harrington handled the sale, or his people, or the way major league baseball handled the sale,'' Selig said.

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, saying he wanted to make sure charities benefitting from the Yawkey Trust get the most money they can, negotiated a deal Wednesday that calls for Henry's group to create a $20 million charity. It would fund youth, educational and other organizations, and the Yawkey trust would receive $10 million from the team's current limited partners.

Reilly has expressed concern that Selig and Harrington, the chief executive officer of the Red Sox, led Boston's limited partners to agree to a deal with Henry's group.

``We are deeply disappointed by today's events,'' Charles Dolan said in a statement. ``We agree with the previous statement of the attorney general of Massachusetts that the bidding process for the Boston Red Sox was fatally flawed.''

Loria is expected to bring much of his top staff to the Marlins, including executive vice president David Samson, interim general manager Larry Beinfest and manager Jeff Torborg. Florida has been without a GM and manager since the end of the season. Samson said it was too early to discuss the staff issues.