MLB "is balking at Houston's attempt to extract a
     promise the Astros will play at least 30 years in the
     ballpark being built downtown," according to John Williams
     of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE.  Astros Owner Drayton McLane Jr.
     has made a written promise to sign a "strict performance
     lease" that would prevent the team from playing home games
     anywhere else for 30 years.  But the Harris County-Houston
     Sports Authority "wants stronger assurances should baseball
     face worsened economic problems."  In a "doomsday scenario,
     McLane or a future owner might place the Astros in
     bankruptcy, voiding such a lease and freeing the next owner
     to move the team."  Authority officials have been
     negotiating with Acting MLB Commissioner Bud Selig for a
     pledge that MLB "will not allow the Astros to leave Houston
     until their 30-year lease expires."  Though MLB "has the
     antitrust power to make such a promise," two sources said
     that Selig "has been unwilling to put anything in writing." 
     Williams writes that Authority officials "don't have much
     negotiating power" because they have started construction on
     the $249.5M ballpark and need a final lease to secure their
     tenant.  Gene Locke, the Authority's legal counsel, said
     yesterday that until the authority completes its discussions
     with Selig, it cannot complete its lease negotiations with
     the Astros (John Williams, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/1).

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