SAN DIEGO — Time constraints have caused the pending sale of the San Diego Padres baseball club to Newport Beach businessman George Argyros to be terminated, club owner Joan Kroc announced Friday.
Kroc announced at a news conference at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium that she will keep the club at least through the 1987 season and left the door open for a longer involvement as owner.
Time became a problem because Argyros also owns the Seattle Mariners and had to sell that franchise before he could buy the Padres. Kroc and Argyros had hoped to complete the transaction in time for approval at a meeting of major league owners June 10.
'Ran Out of Time'
"Both Mr. Argyros and I entered negotiations thinking this would be a simple, uncomplicated deal," Kroc said. "We met Tuesday, and it had become quite clear that it could not be completed on time. I didn't feel it was fair to the community to keep things in limbo. We ran out of time."
She indicated the decision to terminate the deal was mutually made.
At a simultaneous press conference in Seattle, Argyros said he intends to keep the Mariners.
"It's in my personal and family's best interest to stay with what we have," Argyros said. "It was prudent to act now and not linger any further for both franchises."
The deal with Argyros, announced March 26, would have ended an era that began in 1974, when hamburger magnate Ray Kroc bought the club just before it was to be moved to Washington, D.C. Joan Kroc inherited the franchise when her husband died in 1984.
With the sale canceled, Kroc said her priorities will be to consummate a new stadium lease with the City of San Diego and to hire a new club president to replace Ballard Smith, who announced Friday that his departure--anticipated since the announced sale--will be in two weeks.
Asked whether she had any other potential buyers in mind, Kroc said, "That's the last thing in the world I'm looking for. My intention is to turn this thing around. I have no intention of selling the club this year."
Kroc, who said she has missed only three Padre home games this year, was noncommittal about keeping the franchise beyond this season.
"Do you want me to?" she asked the media. "Do the fans? We'll find out. I hate to speculate about the future, but this year's going to be stable."
This was a different Joan Kroc than the one who announced in December that the club was for sale, claiming she found charitable interests more fulfilling and noting ruefully that a baseball team was something she never asked to inherit. She seemed ready to take charge Friday and expressed disappointment that the Padres were off to an 11-37 start.
This was a change of heart that seemed to transcend the mere cancellation of a business transaction.
'Agnoy of Defeat'
"Maybe it's the agony of defeat," she said. "I don't like what's happening. Ray Kroc wouldn't like what's happening. He'd be turning over in his urn. I feel badly, but neither Ballard nor I are going to give up. The fat lady hasn't sung yet, hasn't even cleared her throat. We're going to improve it this year."
Both Kroc and Smith said Larry Bowa, the first-year manager, is secure despite the slow start.
"It's not fair to judge Larry Bowa based on 40 or 50 games," Smith said. "We can't blame Larry for what's happening."
Asked whether she thought the uncertainty regarding ownership had an impact on the team's performance, Kroc said, "Tonight will be the first time we have an opportunity to look at that. If we start winning and have a good streak, maybe it did have something to do with morale. If not, that question is answered."
While promising to work for improvement on the field, Kroc will have more immediate impact in the executive suite.
The top priority will be a lease to replace the current one, which ends after the 1988 season.
In fact, according to Padres general counsel Beth Benes, negotiations with the city had been progressing until the sale to Argyros was announced. At that point, talks ended.
"Negotiations were ongoing up until Mr. Argyros stepped into the picture," Smith said.
Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti ruled that Argyros could not be a party to lease negotiations because of his continuing involvement as owner of the Mariners.
"It was only fair to wait when George was told he couldn't participate," Kroc said. "A new lease is now our No. 1 priority. I want the community to be assured that, no matter what happens, the team will stay in San Diego."
That Argyros would not be involved with the Padres in any way until the sale was consummated was underscored when Ueberroth fined him $10,000 for making a congratulatory telephone call to Bowa after an early-season win.
Ueberroth's involvement in the transaction also came under fire when he was reported to have interceded on Argyros' behalf while Kroc was negotiating with potential owners.
Benes, Kroc's chief negotiator, debunked Ueberroth's role.