NEW YORK, FEB. 11 -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said today the National League's two-team expansion for 1993 cannot be blocked even though owners from each league are at loggerheads over the disposition of $190 million in entry fees.
He said that if the dispute could not be resolved through negotiations between the sides he would make a binding ruling before the expansion process began.
It was Vincent's first day at his office since becoming ill Thanksgiving Day. He has lost 25 pounds after suffering pneumonia and a bacterial infection that required the removal of his spleen.
"I am well," he said. "Medically, I'm fine."
The expansion issue is this: American League owners, who want to share in the money, must approve the new franchises by a majority vote. National League owners, who want to keep all of the money for themselves, must approve the new teams by a three-quarters vote.
It had been feared that, if the AL owners were not placated with some of the money (likely in exchange for helping to stock the new teams) and a promise that no more than one of the new teams would be located in Florida, they would not approve any expansion. Similarly, if the NL owners were unhappy with Vincent awarding some of the money to the AL owners, they also could have withheld the requisite number of votes for expansion.
Vincent said it could be "tricky" determining the true motive for any votes against the cities recommended by the NL Expansion Committee, but "the American League cannot block expansion, and the National League cannot change its mind."
This would seem to indicate that if Vincent has to resolve the dispute over the expansion fees the path would be clear for the NL to place both of its new teams in Florida. The six finalists for the franchises are Washington, Buffalo, Denver, Miami, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg.
One of Washington's hopes in its quest for an expansion team is that these negotiations will result in the NL agreeing to place only one team in Florida..
He declined to comment on the popular notion that at least one of the two expansion teams will be awarded to a Florida city.
"If I say yes, that's big news. If I say no, that's big news," he said. "I don't want to get into where they're going to go."
In a 90-minute meeting with a group of reporters, he also discussed the latest round of complaints from the New York Yankees' former general partner, George Steinbrenner, baseball's economic problems, collective bargaining negotiations with the umpires and the barring of Pete Rose from the Hall of Fame.
There had been reports that his physical condition and the displeasure of some owners over his handling of Steinbrenner's $40,000 payment to admitted gambler Howard Spira had eroded his ability to preside over baseball. But he said he has "no intention" of resigning before his contract expires in April 1994.
He acknowledged there may be owners unhappy with his decision on a particular issue, but he said that before he got sick he wrote all the owners and invited them to meet with him individually.
He said he would still like to have these meetings so owners can air concerns face to face, and he can make suggestions about aspects of their operations he thinks they can improve.
As for Steinbrenner's recurring contention that he did not receive due process during the investigation that resulted in his resigning as the Yankees' general partner, Vincent said: "Other than Saddam Hussein, I can't think of anyone I would rather have making these complaints.
"It's part of the territory," Vincent said. "I expect it to continue. George is obviously very unhappy with the agreement he signed, and I continue to take the position that the agreement governs everything. All was negotiated. All was resolved."
Little is resolved with the umpires, whose collective bargaining agreement must be renewed. Vincent said negotiations are ongoing, but "the tendency is for an agreement to be possible only at the last moment. That means either on the eve of the season or on the eve of spring training. I'm an optimist. I think we'll have an agreement. But I think it will be later rather than sooner."
He said he was not surprised by Roger Clemens's record-setting contract extension with the Red Sox, but he noted the Red Sox are a very healthy franchise and Clemens has been a very successful player. He said that, without considering payments for the collusion settlement, eight to 10 teams lost money last season.
"Some lost substantial money," he said. "And I've had a number of owners in smaller and medium-level markets tell me they are going to lose substantial money this year."
He sidestepped Rose's situation, saying: "The abstract issue is, should people be admitted to the Hall of Fame who are on baseball's ineligible list? The problem with my commenting on it is you can't deal with it as an abstract issue right now. It is a Rose issue . . . I don't think I could talk about it in a way that wouldn't be treated as commenting on Pete Rose."
Vincent may have to decide whether to reinstate Rose, who was placed on baseball's ineligible list after he was accused of betting on baseball games involving his team.