Baseball owners likely to buy out LoriaPosted: Wednesday January 16, 2002 10:51 PM
PHOENIX (AP) -- In a move that could lead to the end of major league baseball in Montreal by 2003, baseball owners said Wednesday they are likely to buy back the Expos' franchise from Jeffrey Loria.
Loria, a millionaire New York City art dealer, intends to buy the Florida Marlins from John Henry, who heads a group that was given approval Wednesday to buy the Boston Red Sox. Loria would then sell the franchise back to the other 29 teams.
"We haven't made a final decision yet but certainly that is one of the things under consideration, absolutely," commissioner Bud Selig said.
The price of the sale would be $120 million. Selig and his staff are likely to either fold the Expos or allow the team to move for the 2003 season, possibly to Washington, D.C.
"It is no secret -- the word is out. The revenue in Montreal can't support a baseball team," Expos executive vice president David Samson said.
Montreal has never reached 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 in the last quarter-century.
The Expos had a 74-40 record in 1994 when players went on strike. They've lost 90 or more games in the last four seasons.
Samson said no one has approached the Expos about buying the team to keep it in Montreal.
"There is not one local person who has submitted anything to baseball to get approval, to start looking at the books," he said.
Charles Bronfman, who paid a $10 million expansion fee for the team, sold the Expos in 1991 for $100 million to a group headed by team president Claude Brochu.
Unable to get funding for a ballpark to replace cavernous Olympic Stadium, Brochu's group sold a 35 percent controlling interest to Loria in December 1999. Loria later bought out many of his original partners, increasing his stake to 92 percent by last May. Thirteen Quebec-based investors own the remainder.
Baseball owners voted Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams, with Montreal and Minnesota the likely targets, but the plan was stalled when a Minnesota judge issued an injunction on Nov. 16 that forces the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome. Selig and the Twins have appealed that order.
It is unclear who will actually 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.
Montreal, which didn't even have a television contract in 2000, had operating revenue of just $34.2 million last year, according to figures compiled by the commissioner's office, a tiny fraction of the $242.2 million taken in by the New York Yankees.
The Expos sustained an operating loss of $38.5 million, a figure that was cut to $10 million because Montreal receiving a major league-high $28.5 million from baseball's revenue-sharing plan.