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TAMPA GIANTS? San Francisco to lose team if baseball officials OK sale


Next year, they again will be the National League's city by the bay.

But which bay, San Francisco or Tampa?

After years of threatening to leave San Francisco without baseball unless a suitable stadium was built for his team, Giants owner Robert Lurie delivered on the promise yesterday, announcing he has agreed to accept a $110 million offer from Florida investors who intend to move the team to Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.

The proposed sale and move aren't completed yet. They will be reviewed by a committee of American and National League executives and then voted on by the full complement of 28 major-league owners. To be approved, the deal needs the support of 75 percent of NL owners and a majority of owners in the AL.

If the owners reject the proposed move to Florida, the prospective owners would be able to back out of the deal.

Despite those potential obstacles, Florida officials were thinking positively yesterday.

"Everybody in Tampa Bay should feel like they're running the bases on air today," said Rick Dodge, St. Petersburg's assistant city manager, after announcing the deal at the team's proposed new home, the Florida Suncoast Dome.

Mr. Lurie will ask major league owners to approve the deal at a scheduled owners meeting in September, said Mr. Dodge. The city official added that if the Florida bid is approved, the team's controlling owner would be Vince Naimoli, chief executive officer of Anchor Industries Inc.

Mr. Lurie could not be reached for comment yesterday.

No major league baseball franchises have switched cities since 1971, when the Washington Senators departed the nation's capital for Arlington, Texas, becoming the Texas Rangers. But ,, that's not to say owners haven't listened to offers, often as part of campaigns to extract more favorable lease terms or, at times, new stadiums from cities where their teams play.

No area, in fact, has been more aggressive in pursuit of major-league baseball than Tampa-St. Petersburg, which built a $138 million domed stadium, completed in 1990, in the hope of landing a franchise.

In 1988, the area nearly landed its team, but the Chicago White Sox backed away at the last moment when Illinois officials agreed to underwrite a new ballpark.

This year had been particularly frustrating for Tampa Bay officials, who failed in an attempt to buy the Seattle Mariners and, earlier, lost out when Major League Baseball rejected its bid for one of two NL expansion franchises. Instead, those teams were awarded to investors in Miami and Denver.

With a tentative agreement with Mr. Lurie, the Florida investors now appear to have passed the most imposing hurdle toward winning approval of the owners. In recent years, the owners have been reluctant to turn down such proposals, even when that has meant altering old practices. The most recent example is the sale of the Seattle franchise to a group dominated by Japanese investors. The sale marked the first time that baseball has approved an ownership group from outside North America.

Still, yesterday, it was too soon to say conclusively how the Giants sale would be received.

"We stand by our statements that we welcome and support another team in Florida," said Florida Marlins president Carl Barger, whose expansion team is scheduled to begin play in Miami next season.

"I didn't realize it would be put together that fast," said St. Louis Cardinals vice chairman Fred Kuhlmann, who serves as chairman of the ownership committee.

Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, who was in Maine, could not be reached for comment.

The Orioles' president, Larry Lucchino, said the team would have no comment until it learned more about the proposed sale.

Larry Greenberg, a financial analyst knowledgeable about major league baseball, predicted that the owners would approve the sale and move, "although it will be one of the dumber things they ever did."

Mr. Greenberg, a Minneapolis-based analyst, said a Giants sale and move could create major problems, particularly for owners in the AL. Many are likely to be unhappy about a move that would give the rival league a monopoly of franchises in Florida, with its soaring population and potential for big profits.

Also, the proposed sale and move would create an awkward situation in Northern California, where the departure of an NL team would do little to help the AL. With the Oakland Athletics already playing nearby, the AL would be virtually barred from moving into San Francisco.

But Mr. Greenberg, whose clients have included the Maryland Stadium Authority during the planning of the Camden Yards ballpark, said the deal still is likely to be approved, citing as an overriding factor the repeated, failed attempts by Mr. Lurie to work out plans for a new, publicly financed stadium to replace outdated, windy Candlestick Park.

San Francisco-area voters have rejected four different stadium proposals, including a plan earlier this year that would have permitted construction of a Giants ballpark in San Jose.

Although the baseball establishment generally has been opposed to franchise relocation, Mr. Vincent said after the last vote that he had given Mr. Lurie permission to explore all options, including a move.

Unclear yesterday was how the proposed Giants move would affect plans announced by Mr. Vincent last month to realign the National League divisions.

In a decision opposed by the Chicago Cubs, the commissioner ordered the St. Louis Cardinals and Cubs shifted to the NL West and the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves to the NL East for the 1993 season. Saying Mr. Vincent overstepped the boundaries of the commissioner's authority, the Cubs have challenged the plan in federal court.

In effect, the Giants wouldn't be the first major league team for St. Petersburg.

The St. Louis Cardinals have trained there since 1946, and several other teams have used the site as well.

Last spring, the Orioles moved part of their spring training headquarters there, using Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg as their home field for Grapefruit League games. Orioles officials said they did not expect yesterday's announcement to affect their plans to return to St. Petersburg next spring.

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