Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins owner who has been trying to bring baseball back to Washington, said yesterday he is not interested in buying the Pittsburgh Pirates "if it is necessary to violate the terms of a lease entered into by the Galbreaths" for Three Rivers Stadium.
"It is not consistent with my principles to find loopholes in leases; in other words, I just don't do business that way," Cooke said when asked to comment on an announcement that the Pirates now are for sale to out-of-town buyers and not merely local interests.
The Pirates, controlled by the Galbreath family of Columbus, Ohio, signed a lease four years ago that binds the team to play its home games in the city-owned Three Rivers Stadium through March 31, 2011. Most importantly, there is no buyout option in the lease.
After having lost more than $6 million last season, the Pirates have been for sale since November. The Galbreaths originally limited the sale to potential buyers who would keep the team in Pittsburgh. The team drew a league-low 773,500 last season and, with the worst record in baseball this season, now lags 14,825 behind last season's pace.
However, on Sunday, Pirates President Dan Galbreath said, "There has been no reaction locally. I am now going to talk to anyone who wants to talk to us. What happens from here on out is that, if someone wants to buy the team and wants to move it, it is their responsibility."
The city has made it clear that it plans legal action against any buyer who might move the team out of Pittsburgh, the home of the National League franchise since 1887. Marvin Fein, assistant city solicitor, said, "We're prepared to wage war. It is illegal under Pennsylvania law for anyone to talk of purchasing a business if the purpose is to break a lease and move out of state."
Doug McCormick, the Pirates treasurer who handles preliminary discussions with potential buyers, said, "The ground rule before (Sunday) was that we weren't talking to anybody unless they were making a firm commitment to keep the team here in Pittsburgh. What (Galbreath) has done is change that. He's willing to talk to anybody, but he's also being upfront to say that (the Pirates) are obligated to pay rent and to be exhibited at Three Rivers Stadium through the year 2010.
"In essence, the story hasn't changed."
Cooke said he has had discussions with the Galbreaths intermittently over the past few months and contacted Pirates officials as recently as last week. Cooke also has spoken with San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie, who says that he does not want to sell his team to someone who would move it.
McCormick said the lease for Three Rivers Stadium specifies that the Pirates pay 10 percent of ticket revenues or a minimum of $401,500 per season. The Pirates paid "about $600,000" last season, McCormick said.
"Whoever would buy the stock of the club would come under the same obligations as our current shareholders and would be obligated by the conditions of the lease," McCormick said.