Men who wanted Giants to get their day in court

August 09, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- As the date for a players' strike approaches, another dispute with momentous implications for the business of baseball advances today to a federal courtroom in Philadelphia.

The dispute involves two businessmen who have sued Major League Baseball for denying them the opportunity to buy a team.

At the heart of it all is baseball's long-held and much-treasured exemption from federal antitrust laws.

The men, Vincent M. Piazza of Valley Forge and Vincent N. Tirendi of Villanova, were part of a group of six investors who in August 1992 agreed to buy the San Francisco Giants for $115 million from Robert Lurie and move the team to St. Petersburg, Fla.

The suit, set for argument today before U.S. District Judge John R. Padova, contends that major-league owners, intent on keeping the Giants in San Francisco, schemed to exclude Piazza and Tirendi from the group of would-be buyers, thereby scuttling the deal.

A key element in the owners' scheme, the suit alleges, was an announcement from Fred Kuhlmann, vice chairman of the St. Louis Cardinals and then-chairman of baseball's ownership committee, that Piazza and Tirendi had been dropped from the deal because of "serious questions" about their backgrounds.

Piazza and Tirendi contend that Kuhlmann's words, along with remarks from other baseball officials, implied that they had ties to organized crime.

Kuhlmann later backtracked, saying that there was no problem with the security check, but that Major League Baseball didn't want the largest share of team ownership in the hands of out-of-state investors.

In December 1992, after the Giants were sold to a California group, Piazza and Tirendi sued

Major League Baseball, alleging violations of antitrust, civil rights and contract laws in the way they were forced out of the deal. Furthermore, they said, they had been libeled and slandered by remarks from baseball officials hinting that they might be linked to organized crime.

Arthur Makadon, the former city solicitor who is representing Major League Baseball, said, "Baseball did not violate antitrust laws in this case, or any other laws."

Piazza, an entrepreneur with Norristown roots whose holdings include auto dealerships, real estate and a computer-servicing firm, has tried to buy into a baseball team since 1985. He is the father of Los Angeles Dodgers star Mike Piazza.

The suit contends that Major League Baseball never intended to allow the Giants to relocate, and that efforts by the Florida investors were an "exercise in futility."

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