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S.F. Giants Owner Agrees to Sell to Tampa Bay Group

August 08, 1992|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Owner Robert Lurie of the San Francisco Giants, frustrated over the repeated failure of Bay Area voters to approve financing of a new stadium, said Friday he has agreed to sell the team to a Tampa Bay syndicate that will move it to the Suncoast Dome in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the 1993 season.

Lurie refused to go beyond a statement in which he confirmed that a memorandum of agreement had been reached during a meeting in San Francisco on Thursday and that he would not receive any other bids for the team while the offer goes through the process of approval.

A group of five investors will pay a reported $110 million for the Giants, who joined the Dodgers in pioneering major league baseball on the West Coast when the teams moved out of New York after the 1957 season.

Lurie said in his statement that he hopes to receive approval of the sale at a major league owners meeting in St. Louis on Sept. 9.

But Fred Kuhlmann, vice chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals and chairman of the major league ownership committee that presents recommendations on all sales to the full ownership, said Friday "it is not clear" that his committee can act that quickly.

And in San Francisco, Mayor Frank Jordan said, "This deal is not done," and vowed to present a competing offer from local investors that he hopes will derail the team's move to Florida.

"San Francisco does not agree to sell the Giants to Tampa Bay," an uncommonly somber Jordan said during a packed news conference at City Hall. "I can tell you I'm not going to let it happen without a fight."

While refraining from attacking Lurie directly, the mayor expressed anger that the Giants' owner would sell the team while a coalition of San Francisco investors was working on a bid to keep the ballclub in town.

Jordan said the coalition asked for the team's financial records about three weeks ago in order to calculate a "fair market value offer" for the club. The records were turned over last Friday, and Jordan said the investors were still plowing through the documents when the Tampa-St. Petersburg deal was struck.

The mayor, declaring that the loss of the Giants would be a $30-million-a-year disaster for San Francisco, said he has no doubt the group can come up with enough money to match the Florida offer.

But an official at the city's Chamber of Commerce was less optimistic.

"People we've heard from say that if the offer really is $110 million, that's a pretty good price," said Carol Piasente. "We don't know how likely it is that the local group would be able to match it."

The sale requires the approval of 11 of the 14 National League teams and eight of the 14 American League teams. The majority approval in the American League could be a problem, since a move to the Tampa Bay area by the Giants would allow the National League to sew up the new and potentially lucrative Florida market. The National League is expanding next year with teams in Miami and Denver.

Carl Barger, president of the Miami team, the Florida Marlins, said Friday he would "welcome and support" another National League team in Florida.

American League president Bobby Brown refused to comment, but Chicago White Sox co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf suggested that his league would probably approve the move.

"What we have to look at is what's good for baseball and not get caught up in a league-vs.-league controversy," he said.

A spokesman for Commissioner Fay Vincent, who was camping in Maine, said Vincent would not comment until he had more information on the proposed sale.

Vincent, responding a few days ago to a hypothetical question about the possibility of the Giants' move to Florida, said he did not think the American League would object, since that league's Oakland Athletics would be the only team remaining in Northern California, where there has always been a question about the area's ability to support two major league teams.

Although a National League owner who requested anonymity said Friday that there is sentimental reluctance in his league to giving up San Francisco, the one National League team likely to voice strong opposition is the Dodgers, who would be losing their historic rival if the Giants went to Florida.

Dodger owner Peter O'Malley was returning to Los Angeles from the Olympic Games in Barcelona on Friday and could not be reached for comment.

His team could be touched in another way as well. The group attempting to buy the Giants includes Vince Piazza, owner of the Piazza Management Co. of Conshohocken, Pa., near Philadelphia.

Piazza is a lifelong friend of Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda. Conceivably, Lasorda could be in line for an executive position with the Giants if they move to Florida, providing both Lasorda, who has one year left on his managerial contract, and the Dodgers find a dignified way to end his 16-year tenure as manager. Piazza is also the father of Los Angeles catching prospect Mike Piazza, who is Lasorda's godson.

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