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Lucchino puts focus on Padres

Former Orioles president Larry Lucchino said yesterday he has put his bid to buy one major-league team on hold in order to see if he can close a deal for another.

Officials of the city of Pittsburgh announced yesterday they will negotiate solely with cable television executive John Rigas on the purchase of the Pirates, after Lucchino and the city said they had mutually decided to end talks about the possible sale of the club.

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Lucchino said he took that step because he and Houston businessman John Moores are in the final stages of a bid to buy the San Diego Padres.

"This is the time to focus on that one, to see if it can be brought to a conclusion," Lucchino said of the Padres talks. "We're at that stage of maturity."

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As for Rigas, he now must negotiate the purchase of the team from the 10-member consortium of companies and individuals who own it. The price tag was estimated at $95 million to $100 million.

Lucchino, who left the Orioles last year after 15 years, has been involved for months in negotiations to buy the Pirates or Padres.

If the Padres deal goes through, Lucchino would be a minor investor compared with Moores, who would be the club's majority owner. But Lucchino would be involved in running the team as club president. He would be able to increase his financial stake if the Padres hit certain performance goals.

Lucchino wouldn't predict when the San Diego negotiations would be finished, but said the talks were "moving at a brisk clip."

He added that documents related to the sale were in the hands of Major League Baseball.

Before entering the Padres negotiations, Lucchino was an early favorite to buy the Pirates, whose owners put them up for sale in August. His group, "Hometown Partners," was one of the first to begin talks about purchasing the club and had the support of Pirates officials.

But the Lucchino investors seemed to lose interest when city officials took over the sale process. The city opened the bidding to other investors, a move that drove up the price.

In all, about a dozen groups have expressed interest in the team; in addition to Lucchino and Rigas, they included Pittsburgh Steelers president Dan Rooney Jr. and Malcolm Glazer, a Florida financier who earlier failed to buy the Padres or acquire an NFL franchise for Baltimore.

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Lucchino's partners in the Pirates bid included current Orioles investors William O. DeWitt Jr. and Robert Castellini, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and syndicated columnist George Will. Several in the group, including Lucchino, are Pittsburgh natives.


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