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MLB's top officials -- including acting Commissioner Bud Selig, NL President Leonard Coleman and AL President Gene Budig - - said they expect owners to vote today on a proposal to begin interleague play in '97. According to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST, "The measure almost certainly will pass if it's voted upon, for little opposition has mounted to it during the owners' quarterly meetings here" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/18). Other reports note that while interleague play may be popular, the subsequent need to re-examine the DH rule could cause complications -- particularly with the union. Last night, ESPN's Peter Gammons said he believes a vote will be tabled today. Gammons: "The point is maybe they should work the deal out with the union, get an agreement there, and then just make it official -- rather than make it official and then have to barter with the union" ("SportsCenter," 1/17). Red Sox CEO John Harrington is expected to introduce the proposal to try it for one year "and see how it goes." Harrington, Phillies President Bill Giles and Astros Owner Drayton McLane -- the major proponents of interleague play -- "appear to have the necessary votes" (Alan Truex, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/18). THE GREAT DH DEBATE: In New York, Murray Chass writes that the DH issue "threatened ... to undermine the revolutionary concept before it can be implemented." One possible scenario: the union could propose adding the DH to the NL, instead of dropping it from the AL -- most likely causing NL owners to turn against interleague play. MLBPA Assoc General Counsel Gene Orza: "Why is the elimination of the DH the proposed solution rather than the expansion of the DH?" Chass notes, while no one in management would admit to it, "the desire to eliminate the [DH] is more an economic issue than one of sanctity of the nine-man lineup" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18). In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck also notes the possibility of the union using interleague play as a "catalyst for the expansion of the DH rule" -- although the current state of labor relations means "it probably won't come to that" (Baltimore SUN, 1/18). In Atlanta, I.J. Rosenberg notes the average salary for 10 regular DHs in the AL was $3,458,573 in '95 (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/18). NEWS & VIEWS: Gammons: "I think one of the things baseball people have come to realize is that baseball is not simply a part of some historic trust, it's part of an entertainment industry" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/17). CBS' Dan Rather mentioned the expected approval of interleague play, saying it will be accepted because of "a concern over falling attendance" ("CBS Evening News," 1/17). In Philly, Bill Lyon writes, "Baseball desperately needs to do whatever will bring back the fans, whatever will broaden and deepen interest. Interleague play is so obvious" (PHILA. INQUIRER, 1/18). The Rangers (who would play the NL West) oppose interleague play because of added travel and an increased number of late-night games (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/18). TV SITUATION: Despite an offer from Time Warner Sports President Seth Abraham to have interleague games carried on HBO, Bill Giles, head of MLB's TV Committee, said the networks that have regular-season TV rights under the new deal -- Fox, ESPN and Fox/Liberty cable -- will carry the interleague games (Rudy Martzke, USA TODAY, 1/18). RELATED ISSUES: One "frequently discussed scenario" cited in the ST. PETE TIMES has the Devil Rays in the AL East and the Diamondbacks in the NL West. D'Backs Managing General Partner Jerry Colangelo: "I've been told by enough people that if interleague play is approved they will probably go 15 and 15. And if it goes that way, we're in the NL" (Marc Topkin, ST. PETE TIMES, 1/18). Naimoli told the TAMPA TRIBUNE he feels they will end up in the AL East, even though it would mean a "double switch" of teams in the other divisions (Bill Chastain, TAMPA TRIBUNE, 1/18).
As they emerged from a meeting with NFL owners in Atlanta, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Cleveland Mayor Michael White "each predicted yesterday that the future of pro football in Cleveland will be resolved within a month," according to the Akron BEACON JOURNAL. Tagliabue: "It's not going to be any long delay. We're in a position to move by early February." Tagliabue downplayed rumors the Bucs would move to Cleveland, and White denied having any contact with Bucs officials or "anyone remotely associated with Tampa Bay." But the BEACON JOURNAL's Adams & Hubbuch note, "White didn't seem to rule out that a third party might be negotiating to bring the Buccaneers to Cleveland" (Akron BEACON JOURNAL, 1/18). ART'S SIDE OF THE STORY: ESPN's Chris Mortensen said Browns Owner Art Modell did not speak with the owners very much, rather he let his attorney handle the presentations since he felt "he would be too emotional" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/17). One anonymous team official, comparing the two presentations: "Art's lawyer blew away the city" (Don Pierson, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/18). Modell's attorney, Robert Weber, said a "violent" campaign against Modell made it impossible for him to return to Cleveland (Akron BEACON JOURNAL, 1/18). A released issued by the Browns defended the move and outlined the chronology of relations with local politicians. Modell was quoted as telling fellow owners: "If the league allows the Mayor to hold the Browns hostage, then every one of you are hostages too" (Browns). Giants co-Owner Robert Tisch, who said Modell did not make such harsh comments in the owners meeting: "I don't know why he put out that release" (Richard Sandomir, N.Y. TIMES, 1/18). OUTLOOK: In Atlanta, Len Pasquarelli reports league officials "all but conceded that the relocation of the [Browns] is likely to be approved, even if reluctantly, within the next two weeks" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/18). In Chicago, Don Pierson writes, "The handwriting on the wall is becoming more clear: It's only a matter of time before the franchise is playing in Baltimore" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/18). USA TODAY's Gordon Forbes writes Tagliabue and the Cleveland delegation "appeared headed for a settlement" -- although no potential solutions were offered (USA TODAY, 1/18). ESPN's Chris Mortensen: "Some people I know in the league -- who are in the know -- don't really know what is going to happen" ("SportsCenter," 1/17). In Baltimore, Ken Rosenthal writes, "Peace is nearly at hand" (Baltimore SUN, 1/18). NO SYMPATHY: Raiders Owner Al Davis said Modell does not have "clean hands" on the issue of franchise relocation. Davis: "You've got to remember that Modell was the one who spoke out adamantly against the Rams and the Raiders and put a lot of obstacles in our way in Los Angeles. Then, here he is standing up and -- in about one month -- changing everything he said in the last 15 years" (Bart Hubbuch, Akron BEACON JOURNAL, 1/18). Davis went on to call Modell's move to Baltimore a "diabolic plot" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18).