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ARIZONA: Fans will be able to make deposits on season tickets Friday, with a $50 deposit necessary. Brochures will be available at Saturday's Plaza celebration outside America West Arena, and will be printed in newspapers across the state Sunday. Monday, Circle-K Stores and Bank One branches will have brochures available. Fans will have until Tuesday to submit ticket requests for top-priority seats, with seating for those accepted after Tuesday determined through a lottery. Rich Dozer, who will become president of the club: "We might have 20,000 season tickets right off the bat" (Bob McManaman, ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/9). Colangelo was apparently "angered" about leaks to the media that the team would be named the Arizona Diamondbacks (Eric Miller, ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/9). TAMPA BAY: Negative reaction to the name Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the Tampa Bay area is widespread. From an editorial in today's TAMPA TRIBUNE: "To name our expansion team the Devil Rays is wholly baffling. There are few less comely creatures in the sea, the use of the word 'Devil' has may pious people discombobulated, and all human beings who give a care for the sound of language are wondering how such a choice could have been made" (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/9). CNN reported that a Tampa TV station conducted a call-in poll on the name. The count was 26 for and 1,300 against ("Sports Tonight," 3/8). Team merchandise will be available today, and fans are invited to attend a 5pm press conference at the ThunderDome. Area malls are expected to have merchandise on sale today (Joel Poiley, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/9). ORLANDO/NORTHERN VA: Leaders from both areas' groups expressed optimism at Expansion Committee Chair John Harrington's assertion that two additional teams could be added before 2000. According to the WASHINGTON POST, baseball officials have told "people associated with the Northern Virginia groups that the area is the front runner for the next round." Russel Ramsey, a member of Virginia Baseball, the favored of the two Northern VA groups: "There has not been a single owner or representative who has not said we will be the next team" (Maske & Lipton, WASHINGTON POST, 3/9). Virginia Baseball spokesperson Mike Scanlon says the group is in the market for an existing franchise if there is no announcement today regarding future expansion (Thom Loverro, WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/9). Orlando group leader Norton Herrick: "Naturally, I'm disappointed. But we still don't know what they're going to say about the second round of expansion. We expect to be a part of that" (Tracy & Leboewitz, ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/9). VIVA BEISBOL? In L.A., Bob Nightengale reports that sources say Mexico City is one of the leading candidates for the second wave of expansion. Dodger President Peter O'Malley: "I'm for Mexico City. In our league, that would be great" (L.A. TIMES, 3/9).
Special Mediator William Usery addresses the owners today at their meeting at The Breakers in Palm Beach, FL. He is expected to stick to his plan to call on the owners to put their "best offer" on the table when talks resume next week, despite the union's unhappiness with that plan. Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner called on Usery to take a more forceful role: "He has to aggressively try to get the two sides to reach a deal. And if they can't, he has to call it like he sees it. He needs to say this side or that side needs to do more." But Mark Masek notes the union is unlikely to allow Usery to play a larger role. They believe that the "best offer" plan opens the door for owners to declare another impasse and unilaterally impose working conditions, as they did in December (WASHINGTON POST, 3/9). ESPN's Peter Gammons reports the owners are essentially being told this week to "keep it in the room, not worry about what the NLRB is going to do within the next 5-10 days and wait for the players to crack" ("SportsCenter," 3/8). EXPECTED FIREWORKS PETER OUT: Orioles Owner Peter Angelos arrived at the owners' meetings, but the subject of the Orioles' refusal to play replacement games was not discussed at either the American League or full ownership meetings. Angelos: "I know exactly where they stand, and they know exactly where I stand." AL President Gene Budig: "The Orioles understand our position, and we understand theirs" (Thom Loverro, WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/9). "The silence was deafening" (Peter Schmuck, Baltimore SUN, 3/9). HARD-LINE NOT HARD ENOUGH? Expos Owner Claude Brochu says the owners will not soften their position, and, despite the fact that the salary cap has been replaced by a luxury tax plan, Brochu still believes the cap "is the best solution" to the game's economic problems. TORONTO STAR columnist (and former Expos P.R. man) Richard Griffin notes the owners' revenue-sharing plan, which was devised in '94, and is now approved by the players, is contingent on a salary cap. Writes Griffin, "The cap has been removed from the table and some now speculate that large-market gloves are coming off. With 'salary cap' being replaced by 'luxury tax,' look for some big-hammer owners to threaten an attempted overthrow of the Fort Lauderdale plan unless an on-field settlement is reached -- now" (TORONTO STAR, 3/9). NLRB UPDATE: David Parker, spokesperson for NLRB General Counsel Fred Feinstein, "said a decision will not be handed down before Friday at the earliest on the union's complaint owners again bargained in bad faith" (Hal Bodley, USA TODAY, 3/9). Jayson Stark reports, "Several management sources indicated privately that if the NLRB obtains an injunction restoring the old economic rules and the union then calls off the strike, owners are not afraid to lock out players. Owners also apparently were advised that while a lockout could lead to huge financial damages in court, baseball attorneys believe they will win any court challenges by the players" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 3/9). GET IT DONE, BY GEORGE: Despite his ascension to the MLB Executive Council, Steinbrenner said he expects to play no greater role in the labor dispute other than speaking out in favor of a deal. But the N.Y. TIMES' Murray Chass notes that Steinbrenner's silence "has puzzled many people." Some theories: He is repaying Bud Selig and Jerry Reinsdorf for their support while he was on suspension for 2 1/2 years; he is protecting his large revenue share from MSG cable; he would need the owners' approval should he want to move the Yankees to New Jersey (N.Y. TIMES, 3/9).
Although the official announcement that MLB will expand to Tampa Bay and Phoenix is expected after an ownership vote today, sources told the TAMPA TRIBUNE that a ploy by baseball owners to raise the expansion fee yesterday caused great concern among the new cities' ownership groups. Joe Henderson and Bill Chastain report that the owners tried to raise the fee to $175M, an increase from the $140M price that Arizona's Jerry Colangelo and Tampa Bay's Vince Naimoli had been "was firm." Both Colangelo and Naimoli apparently were told of the price increase before yesterday's meetings, and "refused to budge." At one point, "Colangelo threatened to walk away from his bid and go public with the owners' tactics. And Naimoli was prepared to renew his dormant lawsuit against owners," resulting from MLB's '92 blockage of his purchase of the Giants. Eventually, "after hours of haggling, marked by sharp exchanges" behind closed doors, both Colangelo and Naimoli agreed to a compromise: both will pay "slightly more than" $150M (TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/9). BRIDESMAIDS: While negotiations between owners and Colangelo and Naimoli went on, representatives from the Northern VA and Orlando groups waited in the lobby. Orlando group leader Norton Herrick "insinuated" that baseball officials had him stay close to put pressure on Naimoli and Colangelo: "They could say, 'If you don't want to pay the price, we'll go to Herrick.' Vince [Naimoli] would have been better off paying me and D.C. $10- million to get us out of the lobby, he might have saved money that way" (Romano & Topkin, ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 3/9). WELCOME TO BASEBALL, JERRY: In this morning's ARIZONA REPUBLIC, Eric Miller notes Colangelo's mood: "It was obvious that Colangelo wasn't quite used to the raucous political ways of the 28 team owners who conduct their often-secret business operations differently than the National Basketball Association. ... It almost seemed as if Colangelo was having second thoughts about joining the ranks of the baseball-owners club." Colangelo: "Six or nine months ago, I said the only thing that could prevent this from happening was greed" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/9). LEAGUE MATTERS: A three-quarters vote from each league is necessary for expansion. Which league (or leagues) the teams will be placed in is still uncertain. Both leagues and the expansion committee debated that Wednesday. Colangelo said the teams may be assigned to one league now, but play in another (Henderson & Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 3/9). ESPN's Peter Gammons reported several owners want Phoenix to join Tampa Bay in AL, to avoid interleague play ("SportsCenter," 3/8). There was also talk that the teams may not receive a cut of national TV revenue for as many as five seasons. Florida and Colorado missed TV revenues for only one season (Romano & Topkin, ST. PETE TIMES, 3/9).