Sales of Marlins, Expos recommended for approval by ownership c

Saturday, February 2, 2002

By Ronald Blum ~ The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Jeffrey Loria doesn't have a signed agreement to buy the Florida Marlins from John Henry, but baseball's ownership committee already has recommended approval of the sale.

In another unusual development in baseball's bizarre offseason, the ownership committee convened by telephone conference call Friday and unanimously agreed that owners should vote in favor of a deal hasn't even been finalized.

Henry, who heads the group that was given approval by major league owners on Jan. 16 to buy the Boston Red Sox from the Jean R. Yawkey Trust for $660 million, intends to sell the Marlins to Loria for $158.5 million.

Loria plans 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.

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

Both Henry and Samson said an agreement on the Marlins' sale was close to being finalized and they were confident it would get signed early next week.

Major league owners are to consider both deals when they meet Feb. 11, 12 or 13, probably in the Chicago area. The commissioner's office won't pick the date until after the Senate Judiciary Committee decides whether its hearing on baseball's antitrust exemption will be Feb. 12 or 13.

"I'm glad that it's moving forward," Henry said. "The Marlins needed resolution -- everyone is the organization needed resolution -- and now it looks like we have one."

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

"This is different, it's not new people coming in," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.

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. The commissioner's office has not decided on a chief executive officer/general manager for Montreal.

All three deals are expected to close in late February.

Back on Nov. 6, baseball owners voted to eliminate two teams, and their labor negotiators later told the players' association the Expos and Minnesota Twins were the targets. But the plan stalled because of an injunction that forces the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome.

Selig says contraction still is possible before opening day, but nearly all others in baseball have concluded the plan is dead for this season, leaving the commissioner's office to operate the Expos.

The $38.5 million difference between what Loria is getting for the Expos and paying for the Marlins will be loaned to him by major league baseball, a baseball lawyer said on the condition he not be identified.

Loria must pay off the Expos' current debt, but if the Marlins do not obtain a new ballpark within five years, Loria would have to pay back only $23.5 million of the loan and would not have to pay interest. If the team does get a ballpark, baseball would get 20 percent of the team's operating profit during its first five years in the new stadium.

Selig declined to comment on this loan, which was first reported Friday by The New York Times. He said "this was completed different" than loaning money to teams to fund new ballparks.

"I wish we could, but we simply can't afford to do that," he said.

Before going to all owners, the sales had to clear the ownership committee, headed by Atlanta Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay. Also on the call were 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.

"We basically vetted the people," Bartholomay said. "Most of the work had been done in-house. I don't think it was too slow or two fast. It was just right."

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