Henry would change Marlins' course

On Baseball

August 16, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Florida Marlins fans have had to suffer through the painful downsizing of last year's world championship team. Now, there appears to be a chance that their suffering will soon be over, if only owner Wayne Huizenga will agree to sell the club to Boca Raton, Fla., billionaire John W. Henry.

Henry has offered Huizenga $150 million for the team, which is less than his $169 million asking price, but a lot more than the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals are selling for under similar circumstances.

Huizenga has responded to the offer unenthusiastically and continues to hold out hope that club president Don Smiley eventually will bring together an ownership group and go through with an earlier agreement to purchase the team.

Why does it matter to local fans? Because the Smiley group figures to stay the unhappy course that the club has navigated during the 1998 season and put a cut-rate product on the field for the next several years. Henry presumably will be infected with "new ownership syndrome" and pump money into the franchise to get it back into contention.

Why does it matter to Huizenga? Because he had a sweetheart deal worked out with Smiley that would preserve a limited ownership interest in the team and would maintain the relationship between the Marlins and SportsChannel Florida, which Huizenga also owns. That relationship would enhance the value of the cable network significantly for a pending sale.

Smiley also has agreed to pay Huizenga $15 million to buy out the Marlins' lease at Pro Player Stadium if the club succeeds in getting public funding for a new baseball-only stadium. That guarantee dies with the Smiley deal if Henry buys the franchise, but the lease would remain in effect.

Huizenga and his spokesmen are saying nothing about the offer, but Henry has gone public in a big way, calling a news conference on Tuesday to trumpet his desire to buy the club and assure that it will remain in South Florida.

"I am here to say that I am very serious about attempting to purchase the Florida Marlins," said Henry. "But if the seller doesn't want to sell, you can't get to the negotiating table."

Henry originally committed to joining Smiley's group but pulled out because he didn't agree with a business plan that called for more payroll cuts and included the threat to move the team out of Florida if a stadium deal is not struck.

"I'm not interested in making money," Henry said.

If that's true, he would be getting into the right business.

He seems like the perfect potential owner. He says he would spend money on the team and privately finance a new domed stadium. But that approach runs contrary to the current trend in baseball, so look for Huizenga and his fellow baseball owners to steer clear.

What's wrong with this?

Somebody -- maybe it was me -- once said that buying a lottery ticket is the triumph of hope over reason. The same has to go for the Atlanta Braves' decision to sign former Orioles left-hander Norm Charlton to a minor-league contract and quickly promote him to the major leagues.

"This is exactly the way I hoped it would work," said Charlton, whose combined ERA over the past two seasons starts with a seven. "After I got released by Baltimore, this was a good situation to come to. If you're not playing for the World Series, you're in the wrong sport."

Hope over reason. The Braves felt that Triple-A pitching coach Bill Fischer could work a miracle and give Charlton back the command he misplaced in Seattle last season. Soon after Fischer suggested a mechanical change, the club recalled Charlton to take the place of struggling Mark Wohlers in the Braves' bullpen.

"Fischer said he looked good and was ready to go," manager Bobby Cox said. "We'll get him in and see what he's got. He's a guy we look at to make our postseason roster."

Hope over reason. Charlton made his Braves debut on Wednesday night and allowed two hits, two walks and a wild pitch in one inning.

Hats off to Martinez

It may not seem all that important to American baseball fans, but Dennis Martinez's 244th career victory last week was taken very seriously in Latin America, where he now is the winningest pitcher in major-league history.

Martinez has fielded calls from the vice president of Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States and gotten countless congratulatory messages, including a fax from Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal, whose record he broke.

"That was nice [of Marichal], even though I didn't hear his voice," Martinez said. "He congratulated me for the achievement of overcoming his record and said he was very pleased with it. It was nice to get something like that."

Martinez even received a bottle of expensive champagne from reliever Randy Myers when he arrived at Qualcomm Stadium for last week's series between the Braves and San Diego Padres.

The Arizona Diamondbacks liked Tony Batista because he is a versatile infielder who can play three positions. His sudden power surge is a bonus.

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