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BASEBALL NOTES

Selig, Owners Still Have Contraction in Plans

January 15, 2002|BILL SHAIKIN and ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With spring training four weeks away and the concept of eliminating two teams this winter all but dead, Commissioner Bud Selig said owners have urged him not to abandon the plan or the timetable.

Owners are expected to approve the sales of the Boston Red Sox and the Florida Marlins at a meeting this week in Phoenix. They are not expected to withdraw or postpone plan to fold teams, although several sources said Monday all 30 teams are likely to play this season, with the possibility of dissolving teams in the future becoming a subject of negotiations between owners and the players' union.

A prominent agent assessed the likelihood of eliminating teams this winter thusly: "I don't even see a 1% chance."

The Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins are believed to be targeted for dissolution. With the elimination of teams on hold pending the resolution of a court case in Minnesota and a union grievance, Selig refused to say February was too late to implement the plan.

"I still want to see how it plays out for a while," he said. "Is it perfect? No. Is it the kind of scenario we'd like? No. But if everything gets cleared away in February, it's not too late to do it."

Is it inconvenient? Yes. Would it cause some problems? Yes. But can we live with it? Yes. The owners are urging me to continue to try and do it for 2002."

The logistics of disbanding two teams on the cusp of spring training, dispersing players, drawing up new schedules and shuffling minor league rosters would be complicated at best.

On Monday, Selig issued an unprecedented invitation for union chief Donald Fehr to address owners during Thursday's meeting. Fehr accepted.

Selig last week proposed that players approve expanded revenue sharing and a dollar-for-dollar tax on each team payroll above $98 million.

The embattled Selig, embroiled anew in controversy after last week's revelation that a company run by Minnesota owner Carl Pohlad loaned his Milwaukee Brewers money without the disclosure required by major league rules, acknowledged that he played a role in the sale of the Red Sox.

Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Thomas Reilly has charged that baseball officials "called the shots" in the sale of the team to a group led by Florida Marlin owner John Henry, former San Diego Padre owner Tom Werner and former Padre and Baltimore Oriole president Larry Lucchino.

By accepting a $700-million offer from that group, and by rejecting higher bids from cable television magnate Charles Dolan and a group led by New York attorney Miles Prentice, Reilly said the trust controlling a majority interest in the team left millions on the table that could have gone to charities.

The Red Sox said Prentice's financing was not secured. And, after Dolan made a new bid of $740 million Friday, Red Sox chief John Harrington issued an unusually harsh statement Sunday in which he said "enough is enough." The bidding was closed, Harrington said. Dolan responded with a $790 million offer late Monday.

"No commissioner in any sport would ever not play a role in selecting ownership," Selig said. "There is nothing aberrational here. We knew John Henry. We know Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino going there was very attractive to us."

While the Henry group is expected to gain easy approval this week, allowing the outgoing owners and charitable trust to cash in very soon, Selig insisted his office approved of--but did not dictate--the sale to the Henry group.

"John Harrington's organization conducted the bidding on its own," Selig said. "We all wanted to get it to the approval process as soon as possible."

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Texas sent first baseman Carlos Pena and left-handed pitcher Mike Venafro to Oakland in return for four prospects--first baseman Jason Hart, left-hander Mario Ramos, catcher Gerald Laird and outfielder Ryan Ludwick.... Outfielder Darren Lewis agreed to a $500,000, one-year contract with the Chicago Cubs.... Outfielder Doug Glanville agreed to a $4-million, one-year contract with Philadelphia....Infielder Kurt Abbott and the Minnesota Twins agreed to a minor league contract.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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