Mariners sale held up over rights to sue


SEATTLE -- Neither Washington state nor King County has any intention of giving up its right to sue Major League Baseball if the pending sale of the Seattle Mariners is rejected, officials for the two entities said yesterday.

The public declaration of that stance locks the proposed sale of the team into what appears to be the most serious standoff yet encountered in four months of delicate and protracted negotiations.

Unless someone blinks -- and soon -- those involved in the negotiations say, the whole complicated matter could come to a showdown in the courts, even though all parties involved agree that is what they want least.

"If this proposed sale is turned down for no good reason -- and there is no good reason for turning it down," U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton said, "King County and the State of Washington will sue, and they will win. They will win big, in my opinion."

The problem is this: Before Major League Baseball proceeds further with deliberations on the sale, it wants the Baseball Club of Seattle to sign a document promising not to bring a lawsuit -- regardless of whether the sale is approved or rejected.

In addition, baseball wants the investors to promise that if anybody else brings a suit against Major League Baseball in connection with the sale, they will pay baseball's legal expenses.

The Baseball Club group, 60 percent funded by Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo Co. Ltd. of Kyoto, Japan, announced its $125 million offer on Jan. 23. It would use $100 million to purchase the team from Jeff Smulyan and the rest to operate it.

Baseball, which has opposed non-North American ownership in the past, has said it was seeking a structure in which the team would be controlled by local investors rather than Japanese.

With King County and the state poised to drop lawsuits on baseball the moment the sale is rejected, the ultimatum puts the Baseball Club in what appears to be an impossible situation.

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