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Final expansion vote delayed

What's one more delay when you've already got a team? Denver and South Florida were forced to put their celebrations on hold Wednesday night when American League owners requested a delay in formally approving the two new National League teams.

The postponement has nothing to do with the prospective new cities or their ownership groups, commissioner Fay Vincent said, and in no way re-opens the door for Tampa Bay or the other three losers.

Denver and South Florida will join Major League Baseball for the 1993 season, with the final vote likely coming within 30 days, Vincent said.

"There is no question the recommendation of the expansion committee will be approved," he said.

American League president Bobby Brown, asked if Denver and South Florida would still get the teams, replied: "The answer is yes."

NL owners informally approved Denver and South Florida with a unanimous straw vote and were prepared to cast official ballots, said expansion committee chairman Douglas Danforth. The NL consensus followed earlier approval by the joint-league ownership committee.

But AL owners requested more time because of various internal baseball issues "which need to get straightened out," Brown said.

A principal concern is the pool of players the AL will contribute to the new clubs, specifically the number of players to be protected after each round of the expansion draft.

Brown, Vincent and other baseball officials declined to say what other issues were. Brown characterized them as "mild," and said they did not involve potentially flammable topics such as Vincent's order for the AL to supply players to the draft or the AL's $42-million share of the NL's $190-million expansion pot.

The delay was also not attributable to any discussion regarding the potential relocation of an existing team, Brown said.

While acknowledging some AL owners were not happy with his decision to award them just a 22 percent share of the NL expansion fees, Vincent said that ruling will not change. "Nothing can be done," he said.

The rules for the expansion draft are somewhat complicated. When Vincent ruled last week to give AL owners some of the money in return for supplying players to the new teams, the issue became even more complex.

Under the present plan, each team can protect 15 players from essentially its entire organization (first, second and third-year players who were not on the 40-man roster are exempt), then protect an additional three after the first and second rounds of the three-round draft. Each team will lose three players.

The issue being debated publicly Wednesday centered on whether more players should be protected because there will now be 26 "16th-best" players available in the draft, rather than 12 if only NL teams had been involved.

AL owners only received details of the process on Monday and wanted more time to study it.

The ownership committee, which looks at things like the financial strength of the group and the presence of the owners in their community, approved Denver and South Florida unanimously, said committee chairman Fred Kuhlmann of the St. Louis Cardinals.

"There was discussion. I can't say there was debate," he said.

In other business, the leagues gave final approval to the sale of the Montreal Expos from Charles Bronfman to a group headed by club president Claude Brochu.