Owners delay vote to realign Deadline extended until Oct. 15 in lieu of compromise now

September 19, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Baseball owners concluded their three-day quarterly meeting yesterday without agreeing on a realignment plan, choosing to extend the deadline for voting on the issue until Oct. 15 rather than compromise on a less-drastic interim proposal.

Interim commissioner Bud Selig presided over a joint meeting of American and National League clubs yesterday during which the owners made several major decisions not related to realignment. They voted to approve public ownership of franchises, ratified a five-year broadcasting agreement with ESPN Radio and dealt with a number of administrative issues, but chose to table realignment while Selig and realignment committee chairman John Harrington continue to lobby for a far-reaching proposal that could force at least seven teams to change leagues.

Selig admitted that he has a proposal in mind and hopes to sell his fellow owners on it over the next two weeks, but he would not reveal any specifics. He would say only that the plan likely would include a 16-14 league split and would involve the movement of more than five teams to address baseball's scheduling problems effectively.

"The schedule is inflexible," Selig said. "We need to deal with that problem. Clubs have the right to try and increase their revenue stream and do what they think the fans want. A schedule that terrorizes individual clubs and the fans is not very beneficial to anybody."

There is strong support for the concept of realignment, but disagreement over how it should be accomplished. San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan, who has emerged as the most vocal critic of the so-called "radical" realignment plan, addressed the meeting and made an impassioned plea to take a more measured approach to the issue.

Selig acknowledged Magowan's concerns during a late-morning news conference, but made it clear that he would continue to campaign for a one-shot realignment that groups teams geographically and increases the number of games each club plays in its own time zone.

Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten, a member of the realignment committee, defended the process, even though it now seems likely to drag into the postseason and perhaps into November.

"The mission of the committee is to examine everything that we can in an effort to better reach out to the fans," Kasten said. "It's difficult. There are 30 teams with 30 histories and 30 sets of needs. It is difficult and probably impossible to harmonize all of them, and that applies to the status quo as well.

"The very fact that this type of analysis is going on is healthy. We are trying to reach out to our fans. Is the way we did things in 1904 the best way to do things for 2004? Maybe not. We will leave no stone unturned to find the best plan. We're going to keep trying."

The plan that seems most likely to succeed breaks the National League into four four-team divisions and leaves the American League's 5-5-4 divisional breakdown unchanged. Four AL clubs -- the Anaheim Angels, Seattle Mariners, Oakland A's and Kansas City Royals -- would move to the National League, and three NL clubs -- the Florida Marlins, Montreal Expos and Houston Astros -- would move to the American League.

The original "radical" plan, which was authored by Royals CEO David Glass, would have required 15 teams to change leagues, but Selig confirmed yesterday that it no longer is under serious consideration.

The unrelated issue of public ownership was all but lost in the realignment debate, but it also could have a significant long-range impact on the economic health of the industry. Baseball has long prohibited the issuance of public stock in major-league franchises, but the owners have seen it work with the NBA Boston Celtics and the NHL Florida Panthers and apparently view it now as another way to bring new money into the sport.

"It certainly is another option for financing," said Major League Baseball CEO Paul Beeston. "When you've got a new option available, it's going to be beneficial."

Teams will not be allowed to put the majority of their stock in the marketplace, and voting rights of public shares will be restricted.

Four teams have parent companies that are public corporations: the Anaheim Angels (the Walt Disney Co.), the Atlanta Braves (Time Warner Inc.), the Chicago Cubs (Tribune Co.) and the Toronto Blue Jays (Interbrew SA).

In addition, Peter O'Malley is negotiating to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers to a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Some teams, such as the Minnesota Twins, have floated the possibility of public offerings. The Twins are seeking funding from the Minnesota government for a new ballpark and also are thought to be talking to Charlotte, N.C., possibly to exert pressure on elected officials.

Pub Date: 9/19/97

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