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THE GIANTS STAY IN SAN FRANCISCO : BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : No-Sale Key Should Be Hit for This Choice

November 11, 1992|ROSS NEWHAN

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Giants are remaining in San Francisco, with the probability that a group headed by Safeway supermarket magnate, Peter Magowan, will emerge as the owner in the next 10 days.

Magowan may not offer admission rebates for double coupons, but he probably will play almost a full schedule of day games to cope with the cold of Candlestick Park, and there is a strong possibility that former Dodger Dusty Baker will replace Roger Craig as manager.

In this troubled and tumultuous time for baseball, with attendance and ratings down and payrolls and pessimism up, Magowan also will find there is an almost daily restocking of food for thought.

Even before rejecting relocation of the Giants to St. Petersburg, Fla., on Tuesday, for example, major league owners heard Dick Ebersol of NBC Sports paint a bleak and blistering picture for the next national TV package. Ebersol predicted that each club's annual TV revenue, now about $15.4 million, could be cut in half.

Today, preparing for their assault on the compensation system and the attempt to do away with arbitration, the owners will discuss salary caps and revenue sharing and could vote on whether to exercise their Dec. 11 option to reopen collective bargaining negotiations, with the possibility of a spring lockout to drive home the need for change.

There have also been reports here from the format committee, exploring realignment and the possibility of an extra playoff tier; and a restructuring committee that might leave the next commissioner with many of that office's previous powers and even put all labor negotiations under his jurisdiction.

Yes, these are the same owners who wanted to strip former commissioner Fay Vincent of his labor role and forced his resignation, to an extent, because they felt he abused his power. But if you're looking for consistency and direction and a clear indication that someone's in control here, forget it.

Civic pride and responsibility is one thing, but Magowan might soon decide he was better off behind the counter.

The decision to keep the Giants in San Francisco is typical of baseball's current mess.

Consider:

If the decision to reject relocation represented a reaffirmation of baseball's "long-established preference for the stability of its franchises," as a National League statement said, what kind of stability is represented by restoring a franchise that:

--Has drawn more than two million only once in 35 years and less than one million in 10 of those years.

--Has never done its part to demonstrate that a suspect market area can support two teams.

--Must now return to the abysmal environment of Candlestick, with no promise that an area in which voters have rejected four stadium proposals will ever approve one.

National League President Bill White said Tuesday that the Magowan group wouldn't be putting up $100 million "if there weren't short-range plans and political backing for a new stadium."

Current owner Bob Lurie, listening nearby, must have wondered if this wasn't where he came in--and went out. His fourth stadium defeat, in San Jose in early June, led to an appeal to Vincent, who agreed that the Giants had met all of his tough criteria for franchise relocation and gave him permission to explore his options.

Some owners now believe that Lurie had the $115-million deal with Tampa-St. Petersburg in his pocket even before the San Jose vote. Some believe they deserved better than to have to learn from their morning paper that Lurie had completed a deal to move the club. Some insist that "exploring options" didn't mean he had transfer approval.

Some or all of that may be true, but if the widespread beliefs of November were there when Lurie announced his sale on Aug. 6, why wasn't it said to him then that he had overstepped his mandate and guidelines?

Why wasn't the deal voided then, saving White and Dodger President Peter O'Malley three months of behind-the-scenes machinations, three months of what St. Petersburg is almost certain to claim was illegal interference with an agreement of sale?

Lurie, who bought the Giants for $8 million in 1976 and is among the Forbes 400, is going to get richer, no matter what, but the lawyers are going to get richer yet, just what baseball needs as it alleges gloom and doom.

Who knows? The Giants might even get a stadium before baseball gets out of court on this. The sport might even lose its cherished exemption from antitrust laws.

Bud Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and chairman of the executive council, acknowledged the legal and political risks and said baseball was damned if it did and damned if it didn't in this situation, but not really. Thirty-five years was enough of a chance for San Francisco. This was finally Tampa-St. Pete's turn. Now the would-be franchise must start returning those $50 deposits on more than 30,000 season tickets, more than three times what the Giants have ever sold.

How many more times will baseball use and abuse that area? The White Sox were coming until Illinois caved in and built the new Comiskey Park. Expansion seemed so close until Miami got the ring. Seattle was on its way until the Far East invaded the AL West.

Patience, counseled Selig on Tuesday, saying he was familiar with the frustration and heartbreak Tampa-St. Pete has experienced because he spent six years trying to get a team for Milwaukee. Even tried to buy the White Sox and move them there. How is that for franchise stability? How is it that O'Malley and Bill Bartholomay of the Atlanta Braves voted against the move, though they represent two clubs that have prospered through relocation?

O'Malley wanted to keep the Giants-Dodgers rivalry, wanted to keep three clubs in California if the NL realigns into three divisions. He got his way, but at what is probably going to be a heavy cost. It wasn't--and won't be--pretty. Magowan will soon find that little in baseball is anymore.

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