NL tells Giants to stay put League owners reject sale of club to Florida group

November 11, 1992|By R.E. Graswich | R.E. Graswich,McClatchy News Service

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Better luck next time, St. Petersburg.

The National League decided yesterday to keep the Giants in San Francisco, voting 9-4 to deny a request by owner Bob Lurie to sell the team to Florida investors.

The ballots were secret, baseball officials said, but Carl Barger, president of the expansion Florida Marlins, said he voted to approve the sale. The Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies were believed to be the other clubs favoring the sale. Lurie was not allowed to vote.

The decision ended three months of speculation that Northern California would lose the baseball team it has cheered, booed and occasionally ignored since 1958.

The denial cleared the way for Lurie to sell the Giants to a San Francisco group headed by Safeway chairman Peter Magowan, a former Giants board member, and real-estate magnate Walter Shorenstein. Lurie said he expected the sale to be completed within 10 days. It will likely be approved unanimously, baseball officials said.

But in an unexpected twist, Lurie said he was asked to be the "largest single investor" in the San Francisco group, adding that he would "contribute substantially more money" than Magowan, Shorenstein or other Bay area investors. The local offer is believed to include a $10 million loan from Lurie.

Hoping to minimize his exposure to lawsuits, Lurie read his remarks from a prepared statement. He declined to take questions or make additional statements, citing the advice of his lawyers.

Given Lurie's investment, it wasn't clear how much money was involved in the San Francisco offer. The Florida group bid $115 million for the Giants, including at least $10 million in loans from Lurie. Before yesterday's announcement, the San Francisco group was believed to have offered $100 million.

But financial details were secondary to baseball fans in California and Florida. For them, National League president Bill White made the most important statement.

"Yes, the Giants will play in San Francisco next year," White said.

San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan said he was confident that Lurie would strike a deal with the Bay area investors.

"I've only used this term twice since being elected mayor -- how sweet it is," Jordan said at a news conference. "It was a long 3 1/2 months. It was an uphill battle, and at this stage we've won."

The vote hinged on baseball's strong desire to avoid uprooting a historical franchise. That factor outweighed St. Petersburg's potential to become a successful major-league market, club executives said.

"The league has always tried whenever possible to keep teams where they are," said Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig, acting commissioner. "Baseball did what's right."

He will get an argument from fans, investors and civic leaders in Florida who said they would go to court to have baseball's decision overturned.

St. Petersburg City Attorney Mike Davis, speaking of a conspiracy among baseball owners, guaranteed legal action is forthcoming.

"We feel we have a very strong case," Davis said. "We will meet Thursday with representatives of the attorney general's office, and we will move very rapidly."

Before yesterday's vote, however, the San Francisco investors went to court asking a federal judge to declare that they have not violated the contractual rights of the Florida buyers. In its suit, the San Francisco group argued that the Florida group lacked a binding contract to acquire the team because any deal required the approval of baseball owners. The suit also denied any conspiracy to violate antitrust laws.

Selig and White said they were aware of the legal threats but indicated they were confident about their ability to withstand legal challenges from St. Petersburg.

"I'm not going to get into speculation on what might happen," Selig said. "Baseball's commitment has always been to have teams stay where they are."

Lurie was even more cautious. Flanked by Giants officials and his attorney, he silently moved away from reporters after reading his statement in a banquet room at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort.

"I have always respected baseball's rules, which require a vote of all owners to approve the sale and relocation of teams," Lurie said. "I made a commitment to abide by baseball's decision in this matter and I intend to honor that commitment."

Lurie also said, "I feel badly for the people of St. Petersburg."

Lurie bought the Giants for $8 million in 1976, when the team was on the verge of moving from Candlestick Park to Toronto.

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