Dodgers sale heads lineup for owners' 3-day meeting Murdoch approval seen

DH, Twins also on agenda

March 17, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Baseball owners are expected to approve the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers and discuss their slow-moving search for a permanent commissioner during the three-day quarterly meeting that begins today at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch agreed last summer to pay an estimated $350 million for the Dodgers franchise, which includes Dodger Stadium, the club's spring training site in Vero Beach, Fla., and a baseball complex in the Dominican Republic, but the controversial deal met with some initial resistance from rival West Coast clubs.

The San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants expressed concern that Murdoch's NewsCorp might pump up baseball's already inflated salary structure and wreak havoc on the balance of power in the National League West.

Apparently, that resistance has been overcome. The sale must be approved by 75 percent of the National League franchises and at least 50 percent of the American League clubs. The vote is not expected to be close.

Murdoch's deep pockets could be plumbed almost immediately. The team is expected to step up contract negotiations with superstar catcher Mike Piazza as soon as the sale is finalized, and estimates on the value of his next contract range up to $110 million -- far and away the richest in the history of the game.

The Dodgers sale is the most pressing matter on the agenda, but the owners have plenty of business to discuss, including the commissioner search, the threatened relocation of the Minnesota Twins and the possible elimination of the designated hitter rule.

Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris, who is heading up the committee that eventually will recommend a permanent commissioner, is scheduled to make a presentation to the sport's ruling Executive Council tonight. Major League Baseball is not, however, expected to unveil a list of candidates this week.

Twins owner Carl Pohlad will update his fellow owners on the situation in Minnesota, where the Twins have been trying -- with little success -- to convince state and local officials to build the club a new baseball-only stadium. He still has a pending sales agreement with North Carolina businessman Don Beaver, but any attempt to move the club out of Minneapolis could spark another challenge to baseball's antitrust exemption.

The owners also must decide in the next two weeks whether to notify the Major League Baseball Players Association of their intention to eliminate the designated hitter rule in 1999. In theory, the owners can drop the DH without the approval of the union, but the players probably would contest the move on the grounds that the DH rule is a subject of collective bargaining.

Even if the owners could establish that it is not, the players probably have enough leverage to keep the designated hitter rule in effect. They must approve the continuation of interleague play beyond the 1998 season, and have given every indication that they would use that bargaining chip to keep the owners from moving unilaterally to eliminate the DH in the American League.

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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