Both Cleveland building projects taking on that Baltimore look

BASEBALL

June 21, 1992|By JIM HENNEMAN

In case you hadn't noticed, there is a lot of similarity between what's going on in Cleveland these days and what happened three years ago in these parts.

The Indians not only have an identical game plan on the field -- they also are preparing to move into a new park that is a near-mirror image of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Not only that, the owners also have the same last name, though not necessarily the same economic philosophies.

"I want a contender, positive cash flow and fair return on our investment," is how Richard Jacobs describes his goal as Cleveland's owner. His timetable for the Indians is to win 70 games this year, reach the .500 level next year and be a contender when the new stadium (Gateway) opens in 1994.

Sound familiar? That's roughly the way the Orioles went into the 1989 season, when they surprised even themselves by winning 87 games and were not eliminated from the division race until the next to last day of the season. Three years later, the park at Camden Yards is a reality, and the Orioles are giving a good impression of a contender.

In Cleveland, construction of the team and the stadium is under way. The Indians have made trade-off deals with their best young players, signing 12 to multi-year contracts that carry beyond their early arbitration years. "This is the only way to build and keep a team," said Jacobs, whose input is being felt on and off the field.

Jacobs' willingness to deflect $70 million of potential income during the next 15 years to construction costs allowed plans for the Gateway to survive. The funding of the $163 million project is unusual in that the cost is being divided equally between the private and public sectors.

The private portion comes from a bond sale and revenues generated from 21-24 luxury boxes by a "Founder's Club." These are the plushiest of the 118 suites available for lease (there are 78 at Camden Yards). The public money is coming from a 15-year "sin" tax on alcohol and tobacco.

Of the 94 suites already sold, 23 "Founder's Club" companies agreed to 10-year leases -- with all of the money (as much as $1 million) paid up front, and going directly to stadium costs. During the course of 15 years, $70 million of revenue will be diverted from the club's income to the Gateway's general operating fund.

That part, of course, doesn't sound familiar.

The park itself is almost a replica of the Orioles' new home at Camden Yards. Designed by the same firm, HOK in Kansas City, the ballpark is being built downtown and will contain approximately 42,000 seats. The most significant difference to the casual observer, however, is that the Gateway's right field will look like left field at Camden Yards, and vice versa.

"There's not much you can do to re-invent the wheel," said Bob DiBiasio, the Indians' vice president in charge of public relations. "We told them what we were looking for and how we wanted it to fit into the urban area.

"Having had the chance to see the new Comiskey Park [also designed by HOK] and the plans for Camden Yards, we knew the direction we wanted to take. But there will be enough for people to know they are in a different park."

Still, the biggest difference will be that more spectators will be sitting in the sun in right field.

*

Keeping up with Fay: It's getting tougher to keep score in the continuing Fay Vincent-George Steinbrenner debacle. First the commissioner said he had reached a decision about whether to lift the Yankees owner's suspension, and had informed Steinbrenner of his verdict -- but delayed an announcement, saying it would come a week later.

It was almost as if Vincent was testing Steinbrenner to see if he would "leak" the news, which he has been known to do. Then, after uncovering "new" evidence, Vincent backed off and decided to question certain witnesses to see if Steinbrenner had violated the terms of his suspension by participating in day-to-day operations of the Yankees.

The first person summoned was Gene Michael, the Yankees' general manager, who apparently decided he might need counsel. He also apparently figured it might be a good idea to get a lawyer familiar with the case.

But Bob Costello, who had been previously involved in this matter, was a little too familiar for Vincent, who barred him from representing Michael, who is caught in the middle of the muddle. All I want to do is build a team," said Michael, who insists he's had no contact with Steinbrenner.

Obviously, Vincent had decided to allow Steinbrenner to return to full control of the Yankees next year, otherwise these additional hearings wouldn't be necessary. But, even if his reasoning for disallowing Costello had merit, you have to wonder if it really matters.

It certainly can't be that he thinks Michael's testimony would be influenced by Costello's presence. One of the conditions set by Vincent when Steinbrenner was suspended was that all key Yankee employees had to sign a statement each month saying they'd had no direct contact with The Boss.

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