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Owners Ratify Sale of Red Sox

Baseball: Henry group to take over franchise for $660 million, the first move in major reconstruction of sport.

January 17, 2002|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — Major league baseball owners voted Wednesday to approve the sale of the Boston Red Sox, the first step toward a historic reconstruction of a sport that prides itself on franchise stability.

The Red Sox sold for a record $660 million to a group led by Florida Marlin owner John Henry. Within two weeks, Henry is expected to sell the Marlins to Jeffrey Loria, owner of the Montreal Expos, for $158 million, with baseball buying out Loria for $120 million.

With or without a farewell season in Montreal, the Expos would then be moved, most likely to Washington D.C., or folded. No major league team has moved since the Senators left Washington and became the Texas Rangers in 1971; no team has folded since 1899.

In a winter in which owners voted to eliminate two teams, Henry, at least temporarily, owns parts of three teams--the Red Sox, Marlins and New York Yankees, in which he owns a 1% stake. While Henry joked that Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf had offered a limited share in that franchise as well, Commissioner Bud Selig said that Henry would be required to sell the Marlins, and his interest in the Yankees, by the time the Red Sox sale closes.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday January 18, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Baseball--The roles of Larry and Charles Dolan were reported incorrectly in a Sports story Thursday. Larry Dolan is the owner of the Cleveland Indians; Charles Dolan was a bidder for the Boston Red Sox.

Selig said he expects the sale to close next month, which would allow Henry and his partners to assume control of the Red Sox during spring training. The sale price is more than double the previous record of $323 million, paid by Charles Dolan two years ago for the Cleveland Indians.

Dolan's brother Larry, a cable television magnate, and New York attorney Miles Prentice, outbid the Henry group for the Red Sox, with Dolan offering $750 million and Prentice $755 million. That caught the attention of Massachusetts Atty. Gen. Thomas Reilly, who investigated whether the charities benefiting from the sale would be shortchanged by acceptance of the lesser bid.

On Wednesday, Reilly asked Selig to delay a vote on the Red Sox sale, then withdrew the request after Henry and the outgoing Boston owners agreed to contribute another $30 million to the charitable trust.

Henry and his partners, including former San Diego Padre owner Tom Werner, were giddy about their imminent takeover of one of baseball's treasured franchises. Werner read congratulatory statements from legendary Red Sox stars Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, then said, "We're looking forward to opening day and setting about the goal of erasing the Curse of the Bambino."

Neither the Expos nor the Marlins can yet look forward to opening day, with both franchises paralyzed by the ownership shuffle and the apparently unsuccessful plan to eliminate two teams this winter.

The Marlins have yet to submit a sale application to Selig's office, Henry's attorney said. David Samson, the Expos' executive vice president, said the list of sale issues to be resolved has been whittled from 357 to eight.

When the Marlins' sale is approved, Loria and Samson are expected to take several Expo staff members with them to Florida, including Manager Jeff Torborg and General Manager Larry Beinfest. Selig's office would run the Expos until they could be sold, moved or folded.

Selig said Wednesday that the plan to eliminate teams this winter remains "a viable option" but added, "I understand time is running [out] on us."

The Minnesota Twins, the other team targeted for elimination along with the Expos, has found a potential savior in Alabama businessman Donald Watkins, who has promised to buy the team and build a stadium with private funds.

In Montreal, Samson said no local investors have expressed interest in buying the Expos--"not one, not ever." Selig said he did not anticipate any team moving this winter, so owners would likely operate the Expos as a lame-duck franchise in Montreal this year. The Expos could then be eliminated, if owners revive those plans next season, or sold and moved.

The Expos ranked last in the major leagues in attendance last season, with an average of 7,648 fans per game, and last in revenue at $34 million, less than one-third the industry average. Owners paid another $29 million to the Expos in revenue sharing, a commitment they do not wish to sustain in a market in which they see no hope for recovery.

"The revenues in Montreal cannot support a baseball team," Samson said.

Conversely, Henry, who grew up in Apple Valley and founded his commodities trading firm in Newport Beach, is taking over a storied franchise in Boston, one with perhaps the most passionate and devoted fans in baseball.

The Red Sox made just about as much money last season on ticket sales alone as the Angels made from ticket sales, concessions, parking, radio and television contracts and every other source of operating revenue combined.

Before Henry joined the ownership group that won the bidding for the Red Sox, he negotiated to buy the Angels from the Walt Disney Co.

The Angels reported operating losses of $100 million from 1995-2001, but Henry believes a winning team in Anaheim could be a profitable one with reform of the major league economic system.

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