A new Major League Baseball committee will study the overall issues of expansion and likely make a report in June on the merits of adding teams.
The seven-owner panel, to be formally announced today, will "study everything about expansion," according to Boston Red Sox chairman John Harrington, chairman of the committee.
"We have to analyze the pros and cons of expansion in the current-day environment," Harrington said Tuesday during the owners' spring quarterly meeting. "We have to look at the economic issues, the legal issues, the political issues, the labor issues, the market issues if you will _ what markets are available. So there are a lot of aspects of it."
Owners joining Harrington on the committee are Chicago Cubs chairman Stanton Cook, Philadelphia Phillies president Bill Giles, Cleveland Indians chairman Richard Jacobs, Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten, Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and New York Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner.
Tampa Bay expansion group leader Vince Naimoli said the news was good for the effort to bring a team to the ThunderDome.
"It's another point on the road map that the owners had to get to, so I'm delighted with that," Naimoli said from his Tampa home. "I'm also delighted because the majority of the people on the committee have in the past voiced strong support for expansion and especially for the Tampa Bay group."
The group includes several owners who are familiar with the Tampa Bay area and the 17-year quest for a major-league team.
Steinbrenner lives in Tampa. Reinsdorf considered moving his team to St. Petersburg in 1988. Giles' team trains in Clearwater, and he is considered a Tampa Bay supporter. Cook has emerged as a friend to Naimoli.
Tampa Bay and Phoenix are considered by many to be the front-runners for the new teams. But communities such as Orlando, Charlotte, Buffalo and Washington, D.C., also may express interest.
Outgoing National League president Bill White said Naimoli and the Tampa Bay group have a head start because they went through baseball's ownership process and were approved, in a failed 1992 attempt to buy the Giants. "He should be ahead," White said.
While the formation of the committee is definitely good news for baseball fans in Tampa Bay and Phoenix, it is only a step toward possibly adding teams.
Harrington said there has been no commitment to expand, but rather to study the issue. And there are numerous other factors _ including how expansion and the upcoming labor negotiations may be intertwined, and the positive and negative financial ramifications of adding teams.
"People in Tampa-St. Pete should definitely be happy about this," Naimoli said, "but they should only be truly happy when the owners announced expansion is going forward and we have a team."
Harrington said the committee will get right to work, but he anticipates a process of possibly one to two years. Harrington said he expects the committee will report on the pros and cons of expansion by the owners' June meeting in Detroit.
"(We hope) that report will provoke a lot of discussion and we'll get a leaning which way it's going and we'll try to formulate a proposal for action," he said.
Harrington said there is no definite date for fielding new teams but said 1998 was a likely possibility.
The committee will have broad powers. Harrington said the panel conceivably could make final recommendations to the owners not only about whether to expand, but also specifically where the teams would go, how much they would cost, when they would start play and how they would be stocked with players.
The committee is essentially the same as the Schedule Format Committee, which devised baseball's expanded playoffs and realignment, leaving holes for the addition of a team in each league to balance each division. That committee has worked out a schedule with 30 teams and limited interleague play.