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STRIKE, WHAT STRIKE? TAMPA BAY, PHOENIX GET EXPANSION NODS
Published March 8, 1995
MLB's Expansion Committee recommended that Tampa Bay and Phoenix be awarded expansion franchises for the '98 season. Full ownership is scheduled to vote on the recommendation on Thursday, but labor matters could delay that agenda (Mult., 3/8). Reaction from the four markets: TAMPA BAY: The area's "18-year-long quest to join the major leagues appears all but completed," according to Henderson & Chastain in this morning's TAMPA TRIBUNE. Managing General Partner Vince Naimoli: "I'm absolutely elated. We are ready to go forward now." Naimoli has been told to sign a merchandising agreement before the meetings' end -- "another strong sign that a franchise is about to be granted." Also, area stores and the Thunderdome have plans to start selling team memorabilia on Thursday (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/8). The team will be called the Devil Rays with the logo featuring a realistic drawing of a manta ray. The color scheme will include aqua, purple, black, green, yellow and white. Caps will feature a picture of a devil ray. Namoli says pre-orders for the merchandise "are several times more" than for any other MLB team (Topkin & Romano, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/8). However, in an informal poll in today's TRIBUNE, fans "overwhelmingly rejected" the choice of Devil Rays. Out of 82 fans polled, 68 gave the name a grade of D or F. Naimoli would not confirm the name, but said the team's logo and colors have been carefully chosen: "We've done consumer research that indicates these colors and logo will be the hottest-selling merchandise in the sports industry" (Bob Chick, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/8). Naimoli wanted to use "Stingrays," but a Hawaiian Winter League team already owns that name (AP/ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 3/8). PHOENIX: Suns Owner Jerry Colangelo reaffirmed his belief in the Phoenix market, saying that was the reason his group was willing to pay up to $140M to gain entry into the league: "If someone handed me one-third of the teams in baseball, I wouldn't touch them with a 10-foot pole" (Ronald Blum, AP/ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 3/8). Colangelo announced three new investment partners in his ownership group, including comedian Billy Crystal. Also on board: Bank of America and the owners of Phoenix radio station KTAR. Phoenix attorney Joe Garagiola Jr., whom Colangelo has hired as the expected team's GM, said the investors have requests in writing for about 30,000 season tickets and that they have commitments from area corporations or individuals to lease all 77 luxury suites in the retractable-dome stadium that would be built for the team (Eric Miller, ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/7). Multiple reports say the team will be called the Arizona Diamondbacks (Mult, 3/8). ESPN's Peter Gammons reported that Phoenix "has a huge celebration planned for the weekend" ("SportsCenter," 3/7). NORTHERN VIRGINIA: Sources say that Northern VA is "running a strong third" in the expansion derby," according to the WASHINGTON POST. One owner who participated in the expansion committee meeting: "They're going to be in the second round of expansion. We'll probably announce that within the next 12 months" (Maske & Lipton, WASHINGTON POST, 3/8). William Collins, head of the Virginia Baseball Group told the committee that his group was ready to "pay now and play later," according to sources cited by the WASHINGTON TIMES. Collins says his group is "not flinching" at the reported $140M entry fee: "Whatever baseball says, we stand ready, willing and certainly able to put that money in place immediately" (Thom Loverro, WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/8). ORLANDO: Norton Herrick, lead investor of the Orlando effort, says he is still "very optimistic" about Orlando's chances, and "suggested he might have the support" of Marlins' Owner Wayne Huizenga. Herrick says he met with Huizenga before proceeding with Orlando's bid, and received his "blessing to proceed." Huizenga said later he would wait until the committee's recommendations before deciding how to vote. Paul Jacobs, a lawyer for the Orlando group, said both Tampa and Orlando could support MLB teams: "I don't think either would be mutually exclusive by any means" (Henderson & Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/8). NATIONAL REAX: Reactions to MLB expanding in the midst of the strike were as expected. Tom Boswell writes, "That's like Germany announcing a new Volkswagen for the U.S. market in December, 1944" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/8). Jayson Stark writes, "Most businesses in the free world might have a hard time explaining why they're expanding during what is supposed to be their darkest hour" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/8). In DC, Dick Heller writes, "By proceeding with their expansion pipe dreams, the owners are telling the world, 'Look how tough we are. A little thing like this strike won't interfere with our plans'" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/8).