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Expos' takeover, Marlins' sale OK'd by owners
NEW YORK -- In an unprecedented move, baseball owners unanimously approved the takeover of the Expos by the commissioner's office and the sale of the Florida Marlins to Montreal's current owner.
Tuesday's votes, taken just three days before those teams start spring training, caused immediate management shifts. Montreal manager Jeff Torborg quit and became Florida's manager, and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson was hired as the Expos' manager.
Larry Beinfest, who had been the Expos' interim general manager, resigned to become Florida's general manager and was replaced by Omar Minaya, who had been senior assistant general manager of the New York Mets.
Tony Tavares, who quit the Anaheim Angels last month, was appointed by baseball commissioner Bud Selig as Montreal's team president.
"From this day forward, in terms of the decisions they make, they are on their own," Selig said in a conference call.
Selig would not assure survival beyond this season for Montreal, which joined the major leagues in 1969. He promised the Expos would be run independently and that their top young players, such as Vladimir Guerrero, wouldn't be traded.
"The only baseball decisions that will be made by Omar and Frank will be ones they believe are in the best interests of the club," Selig said. "There have been no conversations among us about fire sales or anything like that."
The only previous time a major league team was owned by a league or the commissioner's office was briefly between the 1942 and 1943 seasons, according to research by the Hall of Fame and the Elias Sport Bureau.
The National League took over the Philadelphia Phillies on Feb. 9 from Gerald Nugent, who fell behind in his rent at Shibe Park, and sold the team on March 15 to William D. Cox -- who was banned for life by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis that Nov. 23 for gambling on Phillies' games.
Never before has a major league baseball team been ownerless during a season.
"This is historical in nature and, obviously, unique, very unique," Selig said.
Like much in baseball, money and the failure to obtain government funding for new ballparks was at the root of the ownership musical chairs.
Current Marlins owner John Henry, frustrated at the failure to get a new ballpark, heads a group that was given approval Jan. 16 to buy the Boston Red Sox for $660 million from the Jean R. Yawkey Trust.
Jeffrey Loria is buying the Marlins from Henry for $158.5 million and selling the Montreal franchise for $120 million to Baseball Expos LP, a Delaware limited partnership owned by the other 29 teams. The commissioner's office loaning him the difference between the prices.
"This team is ready to rock and ready to roll this year. We've just got to stay healthy," said Loria, a New York art dealer who bought control of the Expos in December 1999.
Loria, who hopes the sales will be completed Friday, will become the third owner of the Marlins, who began play in 1993 and won the World Series in 1997. Founding owner H. Wayne Huizenga, convinced the government wouldn't help fund a ballpark, sold the team to Henry in January 1999.
"We're fully committed to the team and the Florida community," Loria said. "My desire to bring interest back to a championship level, given some time and given our styles, will be the difference."
Montreal drew a major league low 619,451 last season to Olympic Stadium, an average of just 7,648 per game, and Florida was 29th at 1.26 million. The Expos were last among the 30 teams in revenue at $34.2 million, and Florida was 28th at $60.5 million, just ahead of Minnesota at $56.3 million.
Owners originally intended to fold the Expos and Twins, who also failed to gain government funding for a new ballpark, but a Minnesota judge issued an injunction that forced the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome.
Selig vowed to press forward with the elimination of teams, making the Expos the prime target. The fate of the Twins is less clear because state lawmakers appear to be more amenable to a new ballpark and Alabama businessman Donald Watkins wants to buy the team.
"Now the road map is out there very clearly," Selig said. "At least everybody knows what the intentions of the 30 clubs are."
Minaya became the first Hispanic general manager in the major leagues and the second minority, joining Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox, who is black. Robinson became the seventh minority manager.
Selig has complained that teams failed to hire more minorities for their top management positions.
"I feel very strongly about this issue. I always have," Selig said. "If anybody wants to read into it there's a message sent, they are able to do that."
Robinson, a 66-year-old Hall of Famer who is fourth on the career home run list at 586, had been the vice president in the commissioner's office in charge of discipline for on-field misconduct. He spent parts of 11 seasons as manager of the Indians, San Francisco Giants and Baltimore Orioles, compiling a 680-751 record.
"I don't know an awful of the personnel personally. We'll get to know each other in spring training," Robinson said. "This is one-year shot for me."
The Expos haven't drawn 2 million fans in a season since 1983 and haven't reached 1 million since 1997. But the team has produced talented players from their farm system, who later prospered elsewhere.
"A player like Vladimir Guerrero, I'm pretty sure every club has been calling," Minaya said. "Any trade proposal that comes along, I will have to evaluate it -- is it the best thing for the Montreal Expos?"
Notes: Minaya was told that if the Expos are eliminated after the season, he could work in the commissioner's office in 2003. ... Selig's top lawyer, Bob DuPuy, is to testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee along with players' association head Donald Fehr. At the same time, the House Judiciary Committee is to consider the bill to eliminate baseball's antitrust exemption as it applies to franchise moves and relocation.