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Baseball must call San Francisco's bluff

I'm worried. Familiar pangs gnaw within the Tampa Bay gut. History says we cannot depend on Major League Baseball to be fair. Tampa Bay has a $115-million deal to buy the Giants, but now San Francisco antes $95-million. By every rule of poker I know, that's not a "call." If baseball now chooses to be trustworthy, and a sport of its word, Tampa Bay is going to get the Giants.

That's why I'm worried.

Look at our scars. Tampa Bay wears a White Sox tattoo and also was branded by a near-miss Mariners romance. When we sought a National League expansion franchise, baseball opted to fix us up with a doomed-to-failure ownership group. Tampa Bay is nearing the universe record for being used, abused and discarded by something that calls itself a sport.

Say it ain't so . . . again.

National League president Bill White, recipient of Monday's undercutting San Francisco bid, has repeatedly assured Giants owner Bob Lurie in recent days that he would not be asked to accept less money than the $115-million Tampa Bay has put up.

But it was only White's word.

Bill, is your word good?

At first, when we learned Sunday of George Shinn's disappearance as managing general partner in the San Francisco effort, it seemed cause to at least ice down the Florida champagne. He had promised to put up $50-million. But then, mysteriously, a Shinn-less group of 12 investors materializes by Monday to offer $95-million.

Did San Francisco use Shinn as a smokescreen? Did it finesse Tampa Bay into focusing on the Charlotte Charlatan, who had scant chance of approval by MLB's ownership committee, while secretly assembling this bid from the "San Francisco Dozen?" Once their Plan B was ready, Shinn could be ejected.

But what about Candlestick Park? Through the baseball summer, it has forever been cold, windy, unusable trash. White agrees. Attendance will be doomed if the Giants keep playing there. If the NL president sticks to his word, a San Francisco offer worth consideration must include an absolute cure for "Candlestink."

Monday's deal does not.

Peter Magowan, the grocery giant who has replaced Shinn as drum major in the San Francisco parade, admitted after making the $95-million offer that he has nothing approaching a legitimate stadium plan.

Building a new ballpark for $150-million-plus makes even less fiscal sense than spending 95 big ones to buy Lurie's Giants and keep them in Candlestick. But re a new stadium, Magowan did promise to try. But that won't get it. Not if Bill White and MLB owners are men and women of their word. If they are, Tampa Bay is overdue to see proof.

Vince Naimoli, lead Tampa Bay investor, is in Japan on business. He spoke with Lurie by telephone late Monday. Because the San Francisco bid was $20-million shy of Tampa Bay's, and the Giants' owner trusts White's word, Lurie told Naimoli he remains optimistic.

MLB has created a needless squeeze play. San Francisco received chance after chance after chance. Probably even Willie Mays would've understood if, a week or so ago, NL president White had said, "Time's up!" while anointing Tampa Bay as the only surviving horse in the Giants race.

Monday's chance was undeserved.

Frank "Err" Jordan, the great city of San Francisco's bumbling mayor, kept promising an offer for the Giants and then failing to deliver. When three MLB owners, along with White, went to San Francisco to meet potential investors, the only respondent was 77-year-old real estate tycoon Walter Shorenstein. Still no offer. Jordan was then honeymooning in Hawaii, Magowan was visiting Greece, and Shinn was not invited.

A week ago, Lurie contacted acting baseball commissioner Bud Selig, requesting an audience to make sure everything was cooking for Tampa Bay. The owner of the Milwaukee Brewers told Lurie not to waste the trip, because everything was totally on track. Another member of MLB's executive council told Tampa Bay investors they had at least a 95 percent chance of getting the Giants.

Okay, baseball . . .

San Francisco is playing a $95-million bluff. Not enough money and no ballpark. Do you, Major League Baseball, including Lurie and 27 other team owners who sit as the Supreme Court on this matter, have the courage to call San Francisco's bluff?

Tampa Bay should now bare its teeth. We've done everything asked by baseball in pursuits of the White Sox, Mariners and Giants. Tampa Bay's offer is clearly the better offer, as any third-grader can see. We should call on our voices in Congress, demanding help. What about baseball's antitrust exemption? It's time to stop threatening, Washington, and start taking action.

We should threaten every possible legal action. Tampa Bay has been Mr. Nice Guy and Gal and keeps getting kicked around. We've been held captive under baseball's armpits for far too long.

If what Major League Baseball wants is a less-productive market for the Giants franchise, a much less efficient ballpark, and an audience with one-third the interest of Tampa Bay, well, San Francisco is the place to stay.

San Francisco area voters have four times rejected building a replacement for Candlestick. Magowan's gang will make it thumb-down No.

5 if given this chance. "Candlestink" would be there forever to haunt the National League if baseball allows this under-bid charade to work.

Ninety-five mil isn't enough.

Candlestick won't work.

The sport has given its word.

Your move, baseball.

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