Baseball owners voted Wednesday to approve the record $660 million sale of the Boston Red Sox, triggering a chain reaction likely to lead to sales of the Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos.
Owners, who usually take six to 12 months to process franchise transfers, acted in record speed in considering the sale of the Red Sox to John Henry, the current Florida owner.
The vote sets in motion plans for Henry to sell the Marlins for $158 million to Jeffrey Loria, the current Montreal Expos owner, and for Loria to sell his team to the commissioner's office for $120 million.
"There's a bigger picture here," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. "All these things are tied together in a meaningful way to try to solve problems as we see them."
The trades of teams are part of a tumultuous offseason dominated by baseball's attempt to cut from 30 to 28 teams. That proposal, which calls for major league teams to be eliminated for the first time since 1899, has been stalled in court.
After lengthy negotiations between the Red Sox and the Massachusetts attorney general that ended just hours before the meeting's start, owners approved the Boston deal 29-0, with the New York Yankees abstaining.
"What I'd really like to do is address the fans of the Boston Red Sox and say to them today that we are bringing to Boston what I would call sort of a dream team of baseball people," Henry said. "Baseball runs in our veins, just like it does in yours."
Selig hopes the Red Sox sale closes by the end of February and that the other deals can be approved before spring training starts in mid-February. With baseball's contraction plan stalled, the commissioner's office appears likely to operate the Expos this season.
"We haven't made a final decision yet but certainly that is one of the things under consideration. Absolutely," Selig said.
The price of the Expos means Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad is likely to ask for more than $120 million from Donald Watkins, the Alabama businessman who wants to buy the Twins to save the team from extinction.
In acquiring the Red Sox, Henry's group gets the team, Fenway Park and 80 percent of the New England Sports Network. The price is more than double the previous record for a baseball franchise — the $323 million paid by Larry Dolan for the Cleveland Indians in 2000. Henry's group also will assume $40 million in debt.
Boston's deal has been filled with controversy. The team's current owners spurned a $755 million offer from New York lawyer Miles Prentice and $750 million bid from Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Charles Dolan — Larry Dolan's brother.
The Jean R. Yawkey Foundation, which owns a 53 percent controlling interest in the Red Sox, will receive $410 million from the Henry group, which includes a number of baseball insiders who are friends of commissioner Bud Selig: former San Diego owner Tom Werner, former Padres and Baltimore Orioles president Larry Lucchino and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
"I'm not concerned about the way John Harrington handled the sale, or his people, or the way major league baseball handled the sale," Selig said.
Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, saying he wanted to make sure charities benefitting from the Yawkey Trust get the most money they can, negotiated a deal Wednesday that calls for Henry's group to create a $20 million charity to fund youth, educational and other organizations and for the Yawkey trust to receive $10 million from the team's current limited partners.
Reilly has expressed concern that Selig and Harrington, the chief executive officer of the Red Sox, led Boston's limited partners to agree to a deal with Henry's group. Prentice and Dolan haven't said whether they will challenge the sale in court.
"This may not seem obvious at the moment, but running this team is one of the greatest jobs in the world," Harrington said in a statement.
Loria, a New York art dealer, is expected to bring much of his top staff to the Marlins, including executive vice president David Samson, interim general manager Larry Beinfest and manager Jeff Torborg. Florida has been without a GM and manager since the end of the season. Samson said it was too early to discuss the staff issues.
The Marlins have struggled since winning the World Series in just their fifth season in 1997, and repeatedly have said they cannot survive without a new ballpark.
"It is absolutely premature to be talking about anything with a stadium in Florida," Samson said.
Montreal also claims it has an inadequate ballpark, and the Expos probably will be folded or moved for the 2003 season, possibly to Washington, D.C.
Montreal has never won the World Series since joining the National League in 1969, and has been plagued by a sinking Canadian dollar and the move of many English-speaking fans out of Quebec.
"It is no secret — the word is out. The revenue in Montreal can't support a baseball team," Samson said.
It is unclear who will operate the Expos this season. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, currently vice president in charge of discipline in the commissioner's office, has been mentioned as a candidate for either general manager or manager. Doug Melvin, fired as GM of the Texas Rangers after last season, is another GM possibility.
But it is clear that baseball owners see little future for a Montreal franchise. The team averaged just 7,648 in home attendance last year, last in the major leagues and less than half the average of No. 29 — Florida at 15,765.
Meanwhile, Twins president Jerry Bell intends to call Watkins on Friday to set up a meeting that could start the process of selling the team.
Watkins, who met with the head of baseball's ownership committee last week, wants to meet with Pohlad and to examine the team's financial records.
"I'm going to call him Friday and exchange a couple of dates," Bell said. "We'll see if they work."
Owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams before the 2002 season, but didn't pick which ones. Montreal and Minnesota are the likely targets, but a Minnesota judge issued an injunction on Nov. 16 that forces the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome. The case is under appeal.
As officials assembled in Phoenix, The Washington Post reported on a second loan involving Selig and a major league team owner.
It said that the Milwaukee Brewers, while Selig was president and CEO, used the franchise and receipts from its new ballpark as collateral for a $10 million loan in 1997 from an Illinois bank whose board of directors include Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
Reinsdorf told the Post he was unaware of the loan, and Selig called it a "straightforward business loan" that did not violate baseball's rule against a member of one team lending money to a member of another team.
Selig was criticized last week after news that the Brewers received a loan from a company owned by the family of Pohlad.