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Special Mediator William Usery addressed the owners at their meeting in Palm Beach, FL, for 30 minutes yesterday, and, as expected, he urged them to make their "best offer" when negotiations resume. What was not expected was Usery's "emotional and somewhat irritated" appearance at a press conference later. Usery: "After 30-something years in this process and over 1,000 national major disputes in America, this one has gotten almost for us where it's embarrassing and ridiculous" (Mark Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 3/10). Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Rockies Owner Jerry McMorris, who is heading the owners' negotiating team, said they would comply with Usery's request. But Murray Chass notes, "It's what would happen after they make their 'best offer' that could have an impact on the progression of the talks." According to a source at the meeting, Chuck O'Connor, management's chief attorney, suggested the negotiating committee "make its 'best offer' to satisfy Usery, but then not budge from that offer." That position "would confirm the fears" of the union (N.Y. TIMES, 3/10). ESPN's Peter Gammons: "A lot of owners think they see a victorious end-game now. ... After they make the 'best' offer next week and get it rejected, you may see the owners declare another impasse, implement this proposal and have something in place if the players cross" ("SportsCenter," 3/9). WHERE NOW? In Denver, Tracy Ringolsby reports the talks will resume Tuesday -- most likely in Dallas or Atlanta (ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, 3/10).
MLB owners unanimously welcomed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks to baseball. The Teams will start play in the '98 season. THE TAB: Each team will pay a $130M entry fee -- which essentially be rise to $155M when other factors kick in. For each of their first five years, the new teams will receive $5M less than existing franchises from MLB's Central Fund. The loss in revenue from the fund, which includes national TV/radio rights, will total $25M. Teams begin making payments on July 1, 1995 with a $32M contribution. They will then pay $25M on July 1, 1996, $40M on July 1, 1997 and $33M on November 1, 1997 -- before the expansion draft. Each expansion team will be allowed to choose 40 players from existing clubs (Hal Bodley, USA TODAY, 3/10). THE LEAGUE: Owners did not decide where to place the new clubs. That will be determined by January 1, 1997. Many expect Tampa Bay to go to the AL because of the NL's presence in South FL and Atlanta (Jason Davis, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/10). Placing a team in each league would create a need for interleague play, "which many owners want to avoid." Phillies Owner Bill Giles: "That's why we tabled it" (Henderson & Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/10). THE FIELDS OF DREAMS: Tampa Bay will play at the five-year- old Thunderdome in St. Petersburg, current home of the NHL Lightning. Discussions in '92, when the Giants were planning a move to the area, showed plans to redesign some features of the dome into "the mold set by Camden Yards." There have also been discussions about installing a grass field in the indoor facility (Noam Neuser, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/10). Most of the $35M-$43M necessary for improvements will come from state taxes (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/10). Maricopa County, AZ, will fund $238M of a new $278M needed to build a retractable dome stadium in downtown Phoenix for the Diamondbacks. The facility will seat 47,000 and be located just two blocks east of America West Arena. Colangelo's ownership group will pay $24M for the arena, while a loan for $15M will be paid through advanced suite sales. Sixty- two of the 70 available luxury suites have already been reserved. According to the ARIZONA REPUBLIC, Bank One has reportedly agreed to pay $110M for 30-year naming rights for the facility (Bill Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/10). DEVIL OF A NAME: Amid controversy about the name chosen for the Tampa team, the Devil Rays, Vince Naimoli, head of the Tampa Bay ownership group, announced the team will let fans decide between Devil Rays and Manta Rays. Through March 17, fans will be able to call a local phone number to register their choice (ST. PETE TIMES, 3/10). Columnist David Whitley: "With the nation looking on, Naimoli spent his 15 minutes of fame explaining how naming the team Devil Rays will not cause citizens of Tampa Bay to scratch 666 into their scalps, drink chicken blood and start playing Nirvana CD's backwards" (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/10) FRONT OFFICE: Rich Dozer is expected to be named Diamondbacks' President (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/9). Colangelo has hired Joe Garagiola Jr. as Diamondbacks' GM. Tampa Bay has yet to name any baseball personnel, but Naimoli says within 60-90 days he plans on naming a GM to make most on-field personnel decisions (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/10).
Groups from Orlando and Northern VA were both told that additional expansion could come soon. Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig: "I expect the clubs will continue to consider expanding and it will take place sooner rather than later" (MLB). In Orlando, Norton Herrick still has the exclusive rights to seek a team for the city. A penny tourist tax to build a $150M park is also still in place. Herrick: "It's just a temporary setback. We'll be there for the next expansion, we'll continue to push" (Lawrence Lebowitz, ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/10). In and around DC, the two groups attempting to bring baseball to Northern VA said yesterday they would "turn their attention to purchasing an existing franchise and moving it to Virginia" (Lipton & Maske, WASHINGTON POST, 3/10). Columnist Tom Boswell writers that this will be the last expansion for a "long time," especially if owners get the labor deal they want. Boswell believes the DC area's best bet is an existing team and urges Virginia Baseball Chair Bill Collins's to look "to buy the first team that's driven into bankruptcy by the strike" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/10).