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Deal-making to impact Red Sox

Special to

Nov. 25

Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy has always theorized that when it comes to baseball, no matter what road Robert Frost or Bud Selig takes, it all comes back to the Red Sox. So as Selig prepares to meet his fellow owners Tuesday and expand on contraction, and two days later John Harrington and his lawyers from Bingham, Dana and Gould hold the envelopes up to the lights to see who will be the new owner of the Red Sox, it should come as no surprise that it appears the two are related. No, the three, because the Globe is part of this as well.

There has been speculation that Selig will back off his planned contraction of the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins for a year. But this week it came to light that Marlins owner John Henry indeed has a deal in place, apparently to sell the Marlins to Expos owner Jeffrey Loria. Henry then is expected to take his cash and join a group with former Hollywood producer/former Padres owner Tom Werner and ski magnate Les Otten that is attempting to buy the Red Sox. Oh, yes, that group now includes the New York Times, which in turn owns the Globe. And if you're following the dots, remember that Werner and Otten are the group that will restore Fenway Park, and that the Globe (actually the Taylor family, which owned both the newspaper and the Red Sox at that time) built Fenway Park.

Shaughnessy is right, because the only way the Expos will draw as many fans in Olympic Stadium next season as they would playing in Groton, Mass., or Randolph, Vt., or Otisfield, Maine, is to get 40 home dates with the Red Sox.

Fellow owners insist that Don Fehr's howls of double-cross and sneak attack ring a tad hollow, that he knew that contraction was in the air. That said, what he didn't know was the owners' offensive strategy. Indeed, teams can contract without collective bargaining, as long as the antitrust and other legal and political barriers are lifted, as they are not in Florida. However, the effects of contraction are subject to collective bargaining, and rather than approaching the Players Association and negotiating everything together, the owners decided to contract, then negotiate with two fewer teams, 50 fewer jobs, a flooded market and the players theoretically in a weaker bargaining position.

Then came the Metrodome lease issue, which we still don't know if it will be remedied by fulfilling the lease or the owners' paying the damages. But if, as expected, Henry sells the Marlins to Loria and moves on to Boston, then it will be interesting to see if Selig can proceed without all of this dragging perilously close to Opening Day. By now, it should be clear that the Players Association will not go quietly in all this; forget any smooth deal on the effects of contraction, from what to do with no-trade clauses to the protection of undesirable multi-year contracts (does Loria have to take Lee Stevens' contract with him?) to the loss of jobs.

So if Selig on Tuesday addresses his owners and convinces them to proceed with contraction -- even, as one owner suggested this weekend, that they dump Montreal and play the 2002 season with 15 National League teams -- it will dam(n) our winter with legal and verbal waters. Selig reportedly may seek an extension of his term, which makes sense, as that would be notice to the players that if there is going to be a war and they choose to make Selig their target, he is not going away, like Richard Ravitch or Ray Grebey.

Meanwhile, the sale of the Red Sox by the Yawkeys, who have owned the Olde Towne Team since 1932, moves on. Local real estate developer Frank McCourt, who owns a prime parcel of land on the waterfront, has made a late and publicity-driven campaign to overcome perceptual and real political obstacles. Charles Dolan, who owns Cablevision and Madison Square Garden network, is an unknown.

But the two favorites are the respected local group of Joe O'Donnell, Steve Karp, Craig Stapleton and Tom Stenberg, and the Werner, Otten and Henry group. "Understand," says one owner, "that John Harrington isn't auctioning some house in Dorchester that was seized by Fleet Bank. This is a very complicated process, and the prospective owner is buying into a 30-franchise partnership, which gives Harrington and Selig much more discretion than in the normal estate sale process. Don't underestimate the other kind of trust. Werner is trusted and respected by Selig and Harrington. John Henry is one of the most respected of the new owners in the game, and Bud has made it clear he wants him in the business, which is why they tried to arrange his purchase of the Angels. That group would install Larry Lucchino to run the franchise, and Lucchino is one of Bud's most respected colleagues. So this is a very interesting bidding process."

Selig knows O'Donnell very well, and is very much aware that President George W. Bush smiles on O'Donnell's group; yes, Stapleton is the president's cousin and former partner in the Texas Rangers.

"The juggling of the groups isn't over," says one source. "Don't be surprised if O'Donnell and Werner each add new thunder before Thursday."

Harrington may have withdrawn from the public eye in the last three years, but not even his strongest detractors would deny that in the end, he will try to do what he believes is right for the Red Sox and Major League Baseball. Thus, there is speculation that the decision may be announced three or four days after the bids are finalized, which means either next Sunday or Monday. That would allow the new owners to put together their transition team, deal with the free agent and trade markets, hire on and off-field personnel and possibly get the approval moved up to an unscheduled owners' meeting, which is entirely possible in December given the labor situation. "If it is either the Werner or O'Donnell group," says one baseball executive, "it should be an easy approval process because everyone knows them, their finances and their stature."

The Werner and O'Donnell groups also have prepared definite plans for how they plan to operate the club, on the baseball, business and ballpark sides of the operation. What people don't know is who will be the general manager, manager, second baseman ... or whether or not the first game their Red Sox play will be in April, and on scorched earth.

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