MYERS STRIKES OUT; NEWMAN STEPS UP

2nd group appears to get nod


Published: Wednesday, November 12, 1997
Page: 1A
By: By Laura A. Bischoff and Susan Vinella Dayton Daily News
NEWS



An angry Sherrie Myers pulled out of the effort to bring minor league baseball to Dayton on Tuesday - but a deal may not be dead.

Sports Spectrum, Inc., another potential team ownership group, said it is ready to step in, and the group appears to have the support of the Cincinnati Reds and Major League Baseball.

A news release issued by the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball on Tuesday said the Myers' lead ownership group "has not demonstrated it meets baseball's requirements'' and that the Cincinnati Reds have given Sports Spectrum a "qualified waiver of the Dayton territory,'' which essentially lets them start the official process to bring a team here.

"We would like to see a group bring a minor league team to Dayton,'' Major League Baseball acting commissioner Bud Selig said. "But so far, the group that applied has not demonstrated it meets baseball's requirement. We will approve any group that does.''

Tuesday's events were the latest in a heated tug-of-war over who should get to own a minor league team in Dayton. Until Tuesday, it seemed Myers had the edge. Now, it appears Sports Spectrum does.

This much is clear: The fight to bring minor league baseball to Dayton is still alive.

On Tuesday:

* Myers, an Illinois investor working with the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said she was dropping out of the deal and would file suit against Major League Baseball for discrimination and interfering with her contractual rights. She also claims she has lost more than $500,000 in the deal. Myers has a contract to buy the Class A Rockford (Ill.) Cubbies of the Midwest League.

* A Sports Spectrum executive said the Reds granted his group - which includes boxing promoter Rock Newman - 75 days to secure a team and present a stadium financing package.

* Hara Arena president Johnny Walker said it was still a possibility that a baseball stadium could be built at the Trotwood complex.

* Downtown Dayton Partnership President Maureen Pero said she does not see how Dayton can get a baseball team for the 1999 season given how long the application process takes. "If another player enters the picture, we start at ground zero," she said. The city says it has invested $300,000 in the Myers deal, and without baseball will likely cancel plans to buy the stadium land.

Sports Spectrum's deal

Myers criticized Major Leage Baseball for behind-the-scenes deal making, noting that Sports Spectrum got the green light on the same day she withdrew.

"Today, (baseball in Dayton) is dying because of the discriminatory action of the Good Old Boys network in baseball,'' Myers said.

But Sports Spectrum vice president and general counsel Rich Ehrenreich said baseball is not dead in Dayton. His group plans to purchase a team and move it to Dayton in time for the 1999 season. And the Reds have given his group about two and a half months to do so, he said.

"We are being given the same opportunity that the previous group had,'' he said, referring to the Myers ownership group. "It can be done.''

Ehrenreich said Sports Spectrum has until Jan. 26 to secure a team and appropriate league approvals, according to a letter he received from Cincinnati Reds managing executive John Allen. He declined to say what league the team must be from but a source said it was the Midwest League.

He declined to provide specifics about the cost or funding of a stadium, saying only that it will be funded "predominantly'' with private money. He said the group has no preference to where the stadium should be located.

A source familiar with the Reds letter sent to Sports Spectrum, however, said the Reds "have a stated preference that (a stadium) be downtown.''

Ehrenreich said he has meetings scheduled with Dayton officials to discuss a stadium deal but declined to say who those officials were He's scheduled to be in Dayton Thursday.

Dayton Mayor Mike Turner said "The baseball proposal in Dayton was not about Sherrie Myers. It was about having minor league baseball in downtown. Certainly, I think the proposal needs to be reviewed. Otherwise we could end up seeing minor league baseball in one of our suburbs."

Discrimination allegations

Myers' husband, Tom Dickson, owns the Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts in the Midwest League. Major League rules prohibit an individual owning or holding interest in two teams in the same league. Boxing promoter Newman raised questions about a husband and wife owning teams in the same league. He also said the Reds backed out of a verbal agreement to work with Sports Spectrum when the Reds found out Newman, who is black, was in the ownership group.

On Tuesday, Major League Baseball said Myers has not responded to the league's request for more information. Myers said she has bent over backwards to compromise and answer questions.

The statement also said Dickson and Myers each owning a team would violate league rules against dual ownership.

Myers said the dual ownership issue is a smoke screen.

Myers claimed that Jimmie Lee Solomon, who is in charge of Major League's minor league operations, said he would not approve a deal in Dayton unless a minority was the majority owner. Myers said Solomon made the statement in a telephone conversation with Dickson the week of June 16. She added that she believes Solomon had Newman, a minority, in mind to own a team in Dayton.

Myers said she offered Newman a percentage in the Dayton team, but Newman rejected the proposal because he wanted to be the majority owner.

Myers added that she should be considered a minority owner, given that she knows of only one other woman minor league team owner.

"I call it reverse discrimination," she said. "I'm being discriminated against because of who I am not."

Selig said, "The only thing we told Dayton (Myers) was the ownership group had to have minority representation. The lead person does not have to be a minority." He added that he knew nothing of a possible lawsuit by Myers.

Myers countered, "And somebody needs to ask him, where is that written in the rules that there has to be minority representation?"

Myers said she will likely file suit in Illinois, where she lives, but did not know when or in which court. The lawsuit, she said, will likely be for her lost investment and lost potential earnings of the team for 15 years, though she didn't provide figures. The city and Myers were prepared to enter into a 15-year lease agreement for the stadium.

Major League officials never delivered a rejection letter to Myers but she said she was told by Selig's attorney that her application would not be approved.

Community and city officials have been working to bring a Class A minor league baseball team to Dayton for more than a year. The Downtown Dayton Partnership spearheaded the effort by forming a task force, garnering regional support, recommending funding and sites and picking Dickson and Myers to own and operate the Dayton team.

But there were problems. Environmental contamination and a high water table forced the city to consider a more costly stadium design. Turner then pulled his support for the project, saying Dayton should not foot the bill for the $2.7 million cost overrun.

Staff writers Hal McCoy and Janice Morse contributed to this report.

* CONTACT Laura Bischoff at 225-2446 or e-mail her at laura_bischoff@coxohio.com







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