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We can't take no for an answer

Among baseball's shakers, Tampa Bay searches desperately for a mover. Seattle's Mariners have been widely characterized as "most movable" of the 26 American and National League franchises. But the team's owner was working hard Wednesday to say it ain't so. "That's inaccurate," Indiana-born broadcasting magnate Jeff Smulyan said of move-the-Mariners talk. "I understand Tampa Bay's disappointment over falling short in pursuit of 1993 expansion, and the resulting anxiety in chasing existing ballclubs on behalf of the St. Petersburg dome.

"But the Mariners, in 1991, are making significant headway. We're winning more games, and our attendance is up by 200,000. Seattle people are more than ever into their baseball team."

Good news for Seattle, which translates to bad news for Tampa Bay. That's post-expansion life on the basepaths. We're now in the role of predator. Tampa Bay must tail major-league owners, looking for financial stumbles or drippings of franchise blood. Eager to console, and eventually kidnap for delivery to the Florida Suncoast Dome.

I'm on lobby patrol, at the snazzy Loews Santa Monica Hotel, but encouragement can be sparse among baseball conventioneers. Fay Vincent, the game's commissioner, raves against franchise relocation the way Fidel Castro rants against capitalism.

But who needs him?

Where's the blood?

David Jacobs, who with his brother owns the Indians, advises Tampa Bay to not waste time waiting for Cleveland's franchise to say, "Take me, I'm yours." He says it's a near-cinch the Indians will get a new ballpark to replace oversized, undernourished old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

So, who's next?

Houston owner John McMullen has a "For Sale" sign on the Astros, but still no Texas takers. He has asked Vincent's permission to stalk outside investors. But don't drool, Tampa Bay. Baseball is about as likely to desert America's fifth-most-populous market as Dean Martin is to stop being in love with 12-year-old Scotch.

Bob Lurie is another owner with problems. San Francisco's CEO swears he's had it with windy, chilly Candlestick Park. For five years, Lurie has been in a "Build us a new stadium or else!" mode. Plans were voted down in both San Francisco and nearby San Jose.

"Right now, both towns are working on new stadium proposals to run past their voters," the Giants owner said Wednesday. "If those also fail, we'll then reassess."

One thing's for sure. Lurie will not move the Giants. But he might sell them if the San Francisco Bay Area doesn't deliver a new playpen. We'll wait, seeing if Lurie limps or bleeds.

It's a great life, right?

American League owners Bud Selig of Milwaukee, Jerry Reinsdorf of Chicago and Haywood Sullivan of Boston expect something to shake loose, causing a franchise to be ripe for Tampa Bay wooing.

So, if Seattle remains the No. 1 "most movable," let's get back to Smulyan, the engaging Hoosier from Indianapolis who governs the Mariners.

His comment, "We're not looking to move," was predictable. Smulyan is too smart to enrage Puget Sound by making public goo-goo eyes at Tampa Bay. Maybe he really isn't interested. But big-league gossip says otherwise.

Tampa Bay principals have made contact with Seattle's owner. Smulyan got word from St. Petersburg that his Mariners could increase annual gross revenues by $20-million by moving 3,000 miles to more-populous, more-baseball-hungry Florida.

"When there's rumors, everybody automatically thinks Mariners," a grinning Smulyan told me. "Oh, we do still have barriers to leap. While the pro football Seahawks are being warmly embraced, our city and county governments are yet to react as positively toward the Mariners.

"Tampa Bay folks do seem effective in getting things done politically. A domed stadium built without having a baseball franchise would seem evidence of that. Maybe we should hire Tampa Bay folks as consultants to show the Mariners how to get such things done in Seattle."

So, what do we read into all this? Should we forget Cleveland, and also Houston? Should Tampa Bay's baseball predators cheer for Seattle politicians to remain unrelenting to Mariners desires?

Whatever it takes.