BOSTON – The Boston Red Sox, controlled by the Yawkey family and its trust since 1933, could be turned over as soon as January to a Florida financier and a New York television executive in a record-breaking $660 million deal.
The team's limited partners voted unanimously Thursday to sell the franchise to a group led by Florida Marlins owner John Henry and producer Tom Werner, a former San Diego Padres owner.
``They have the resources to continue our quest to beat the Yankees and win a World Series,'' Red Sox chief executive officer John Harrington said.
But the out-of-towners could face a tough road earning the trust of Boston fans. An attempt to bring local businessmen Joseph O'Donnell and Steve Karp into the deal collapsed at the last minute Thursday, and the headline across Friday's edition of the Boston Herald showed a scoreboard reading ``Visitors 1, Boston 0.''
``The Boston Red Sox represent the spirit and passion of New England,'' Henry's group said in a statement. ``We will become active and visible members of this great community and always remember that the team belongs, not to us, but to all of you.''
The team said the agreement, which must be approved by 75 percent of the 30 major league owners, also included $40 million in assumed debt, bringing the total to $700 million. The current record for a baseball team is the $323 million that Larry Dolan paid for the Cleveland Indians last year.
The agreement culminates 14 months of maneuvering since the Yawkey Trust put its 53 percent stake up for sale. The final four contenders upped the stakes by bidding for 100 percent of the team.
The deal also includes 80 percent of the New England Sports Network and Fenway Park.
The winning group has some New England ties, including Ben Cammarata, chairman of Framingham-based TJX Corp., as well as former senator George Mitchell and ski resort developer Leslie Otten, both of Maine.
Other backers of the winning group include The New York Times Co., parent company of The Boston Globe, and veteran baseball executive Larry Lucchino, who will run the team. The future of general manager Dan Duquette is unclear.
A sale to the Henry group could preserve the life of Fenway Park, the oldest and smallest stadium in the majors. Werner's group has said it would like to renovate the ballpark, which opened in 1912 and has a capacity of about 34,000 fans.
It could also strike a deal with Frank McCourt, who dropped out of the bidding for the team, but owns 25 acres of land near downtown Boston where he has proposed to build a new stadium.
Lucchino, who led the effort to build Camden Yards in Baltimore during his tenure as an Orioles executive, would likely be the team's stadium point man.
A math junkie, Henry made millions as a commodities trader in Florida. In 1999, he bought the Marlins for $150 million, gradually rebuilding their credibility with fans after previous owner Wayne Huizenga built a World Series winner and then unloaded most of the talent.
Werner, who made television hits like ``The Cosby Show'' and ``Third Rock from the Sun,'' made unpopular trades as owner of the Padres in the early 1990s, claiming they were necessary after the team lost $7 million in 1992.
Werner and Henry are ``deeply involved and passionate about the game of baseball,'' Harrington said. Both are close to baseball commissioner Bud Selig.
``Selig wanted close associates and allies to get it,'' Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said. ``That's the way the man operates.''
The Henry-Werner group beat out Cablevision Systems Chairman Charles Dolan and a group led by New York attorney Miles Prentice.
Justin Morreale, an attorney for the Yawkey Trust, indicated in a short statement that the team received higher bids, but that they included ``contingencies.'' Morreale said one bid was ``impractical'' and another violated major league baseball rules. He did not return a phone message seeking further details.
Harrington said the Henry-Werner group offered the highest qualified bid for the team.
Henry is negotiating to sell the Marlins to Jeffrey Loria, the owner of the Montreal Expos, a team baseball commissioner Bud Selig wants to eliminate. That agreement could be completed before the end of the year, a baseball official with knowledge of the talks said on the condition he not be identified.
Both deals could be put on a fast track and put to a vote when owners meet in mid-January in Phoenix, the official said.
If approved, Henry would become the managing general partner, the person in charge of running the Red Sox, said Joe Baerlein, a spokesman for the Henry-Werner group.
Werner would be chairman of the executive committee, and Lucchino, the former president of the Orioles and Padres, would become president and chief executive officer, would be in charge of baseball operations.
Thomas Yawkey bought the team from J.A. Robert Quinn in 1933, and Jean Yawkey took over when her husband died in 1976.
Jean Yawkey, Haywood Sullivan and Buddy LeRoux bought the team's general partnership from the estate, and Jean Yawkey later bought out LeRoux.
When Jean Yawkey died in 1992, she willed all her holdings to her trust, and Harrington gained complete control of the team in November 1993, when the trust bought out Sullivan.