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Don't expect fast answers on expansion

Major League Baseball's new expansion committee will get right to work, but there were several indications Wednesday the task will be a long one.

Claiming they wanted to be proactive rather than reactive as they have been in the past, the owners appointed a nine-member committee charged with studying all aspects of adding new teams.

"We thought this was time we ought to consider the subject," said interim commissioner Bud Selig. "It is obviously a very complicated process. It obviously has ramifications in many areas. And therefore it is the kind of thing that needs to be done in a very thoughtful and sensitive manner."

Owners have made no commitment to add teams and appear to have mixed views. "It's wide open," Atlanta Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay said.

The committee has been asked to make at least an initial report on the pros and cons of expansion at the owners' June meeting.

Committee chairman John Harrington, chairman of the Boston Red Sox, said he planned to begin conference call meetings later this month, but said the panel "would have to work like heck to collect a lot of data" to complete the report.

Officials said there is no timetable for when a decision would be made on whether to expand, much less on when teams might be awarded. (The most common speculation is 1998.)

They said study of the issue will be extensive and wide-ranging, including legal, political, financial and baseball (scheduling, alignment, player acquisition) issues. And, they said, expansion will be _ to some degree _ part of upcoming negotiations with the players union.

"It's a deliberate process," said Colorado Rockies chairman Jerry McMorris, "but I think it's great news that the process has begun."

Baseball leaders in Tampa Bay and Phoenix said the formation of the committee is a positive step. "I think it's great that we finally see a public announcement of what's privately been going on for a while," St. Petersburg city administrator Rick Dodge said from his home.

But the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association was not impressed.

"I don't think I'd treat it with any particular significance," Don Fehr said from Palm Beach. "There's no timetable, no deadlines. References to lots of other things that have to be done first, like resolving the bargaining problem with us. . . . I don't think it suggests anything is imminent. If it does, the owners could make that clear."

Fehr said the players would welcome expansion, but are not going to make concessions for it at the bargaining table. Several owners have said privately that expansion hinges on the implementation of the owners' proposal for revenue-sharing among themselves and a salary cap for the players. Harrington said it is possible expansion "could be carved out" and decided separately from the labor talks.

Harrington said he expected the financial issue to be the toughest aspect of the panel's study, weighing the addition of revenue from an expansion fee with the dilution of other revenues by adding more teams.

Few specifics about the upcoming process were provided. Harrington said the committee would look at potential markets and might hire an outside firm to evaluate them, but would not meet with prospective franchisees until a decision is made to add teams. He also said two teams could be added to one league rather than one to each.

While Tampa Bay and Phoenix are considered front-runners, other communities such as Orlando; Charlotte, N.C.; Washington, D.C.; and Buffalo are likely to apply. Washington leader Bart Fisher said Wednesday, "We're going to be a big player in this thing."

Selig maintained the committee was not formed in response to an upcoming antitrust hearing before a U.S. Senate subcommittee (March 21 in St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center), or to litigation from Tampa Bay investors, or to Phoenix's April 1995 deadline to enact a sales-tax increase to pay for a stadium.

"It was in response only to our own efforts to examine all phases of our own business," Selig said.

Because the stadium legislation is only available until next April, Phoenix leader Jerry Colangelo has been hoping for a quick decision. "We've done everything we can do to put ourselves in position to be ready when and if they take the next step," Colangelo said.

The committee, as reported Wednesday in the Times, includes 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, New York Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner, American League president Bobby Brown and new National League president Leonard Coleman. Selig also will be involved.

Also Wednesday

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. _ Seattle Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said there is at least a 50-50 chance his team will play its opening games of the 1995 season in Japan.

The Mariners would bring another AL team to Japan and play two or three regular-season games there under the proposal.

Home run king Hank Aaron will be honored April 8-13 to mark the 20th anniversary of his 715th home run.

AL President Bobby Brown was said to be recovering well from Feb. 14 surgery to remove a prostate malignancy.

Owners and chief labor negotiator Richard Ravitch had a final strategy session prior to Ravitch's Monday night meeting in Tampa with union chief Don Fehr.

The Schedule Format Committee is still trying to work out details of the home-field advantage system for the new tier of playoffs. The advantage will be predetermined, not based on the best records.