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BASEBALL NOTES : Next Expansion May Impact Spring Training Sites

March 06, 1994|JIM HENNEMAN | BALTIMORE SUN

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The principal cities involved, Phoenix and the Tampa Bay area, couldn't care less, but baseball's next expansion could be extremely disruptive to a lot of spring training camps.

There are seven major-league teams training in the Phoenix area. Two others are within the city limits of St. Petersburg, with three others in the immediate surrounding counties.

If Phoenix and Tampa Bay get the next two expansion franchises, as is likely, 40 percent of the major-league baseball organizations would suddenly find themselves training in an area that has its own team. That would make exhibition games far less attractive to the permanent residents and severely limit the media exposure now available to teams that train in Arizona and Florida.

The Baltimore Orioles moved out of Miami four years ago, long after that city had outgrown its status as nothing more than a spring training site. The New York Yankees, who have been successful in Fort Lauderdale for 33 years, are on the verge of moving their spring training operation to Tampa. Whether another team would move into a facility located in the heart of Florida Marlins territory is questionable.

The erection of state-of-the-art complexes has been big in Florida and Arizona for the past decade. How, or why, the Orioles have been looking unsuccessfully at least that long for a new spring home is one of the game's big mysteries.

Such facilities are no longer popping up as fast as "cookie-cutter" golf course developments. And, with major-league possibilities on the horizon, the states of Florida and Arizona are no longer trying to lure teams for spring training.

They're talking about the real thing. And if Tampa Bay and Phoenix gain admission to the Big Show, some of the teams training in those areas might have to re-evaluate their situations. It's difficult to see how seven teams could continue to prosper in the Phoenix area and five others in the vicinity of St. Petersburg if those cities have teams of their own.

The scramble for spring training sites could start all over again, meaning the field would have lapped the Orioles and everybody would again be on a level field.

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Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Dave Stewart is trying to forget the incident that put him in a Tampa jail two weeks ago. But the veteran right-hander, arrested with teammate Todd Stottlemyre and accused of punching a police officer after a nightclub scuffle, insists he is innocent.

"I didn't do anything wrong," said Stewart, who had been celebrating his birthday. "I've built a real strong reputation -- you don't have to be a baseball fan to know what I stand for and what I believe in.

"A police force is trying to make me look a certain way, but I've never been known to strike at anybody unless I'm provoked. I didn't hit anyone. That's not something you wouldn't remember.

"When you punch somebody, it's like (things go) in slow motion. You don't forget something like that."

There has been no disposition and little has been said publicly since the incident occurred. "No news is good news," Stewart said. "I think the best thing is to let people sit back and relax and let it settle down."

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With Whitey Herzog out of the picture, and Bill Bavasi in the general manager's office, the Angels appear to have taken a page from the Cleveland Indians' negotiating manual. In signing Tim Salmon , Chad Curtis and Gary DiSarcina to long-term contracts, the Angels overpaid up front in exchange for two arbitration-free years from each player.

Curtis and DiSarcina, who signed three-year deals for $4.5 and $2.5 million, respectively, are both two-year players who would've been eligible for arbitration next year. Salmon, who got $7.5 million for four years, was two years away from arbitration eligibility.

Based on his performance last year (31 home runs, 95 RBI), Salmon would have been worth far more than his contract's average of $1.875 million when he became eligible for arbitration. But the ledger is balanced by the fact that the Angels were obligated to pay him no more than minimum salary (currently $109,000) for the next two years.

The effects of the contract are difficult to weigh at the moment, and represent a gamble to a certain extent by both sides. But there's one thing of which you can be sure -- by the time the contracts expire they will be outdated and one side will feel like it made a mistake.

Salmon's contract is the largest ever for a second-year player, exceeding the $4.2 million, three-year deal the Los Angeles Dodgers gave to catcher Mike Piazza.

Of the other teams that have tried getting long-term commitments from their young players before they become eligible for arbitration, the Indians have had the most success. The White Sox tried a similar tactic, but were accused of strong-armed negotiation policies. That's one of the chief reasons Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell has had a long-running feud with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

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