Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins owner who has been trying to bring major league baseball back to Washington, talked this week with representatives of the Pittsburgh Pirates about purchasing that financially struggling team, it was learned yesterday.
Cooke and Pirates General Manager Joe Brown confirmed the discussions. Cooke would like to move the National League team to RFK Stadium, but both Brown and Pirates treasurer Doug McCormick said any new owner would have difficulty breaking the team's lease with Three Rivers Stadium, which runs through March 31, 2011.
The Pirates say they lost $6 million last year. McCormick said losses would be even greater this year if they continue on their present course, with attendance lagging (they drew 773,500 last season, last in the NL) and their cable TV company folded.
Cooke said no deal for the Pirates is imminent and, "There's nothing new yet." McCormick all but explained why, saying, "We don't think we're the answer to any city because of the lease." The lease, he said, requires the team to play all home dates through the 2010 season in Three Rivers and provides no buyout option.
"People have said, 'Couldn't they negotiate a settlement?' " McCormick said. "From the climate today in the United States and the desire of many cities to have a team, I don't see that happening . . . The other alternative is to go to court. I don't know that anyone could determine what the outcome would be."
Asked if the lease could be broken, McCormick laughed and said, "You have too many lawyers down there in Washington."
Brown said McCormick is coordinating the negotiations, and McCormick said he considers "that I have an active dialogue" with four parties interested in keeping the team in Pittsburgh. McCormick said there was a firm offer earlier this year to buy the team and keep it there, but the stockholders turned it down.
Cooke said he had talked intermittently over the last several months with the Galbreath family, who own the Pirates, and Brown, a longtime friend. He also has talked to San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie about buying that team and moving it here.
"I told him what the situation is," Brown said. "Yes, the club is for sale and also that the Galbreaths have assured the city . . . they pretty much would try to sell to someone who would keep the team in the city."
Asked what it would take to change their minds, Brown said, "That's really a determination that must be made by the owners and not us working stiffs."
The Galbreaths did not return calls.