Jersey Move for Yanks Swamped

With the World Series trophy safely stowed in City Hall and the fate of Yankee Stadium safe from the will of the people, attention now turns to the future home and owner(s) of the Bronx Bombers.

We know that George Steinbrenner will not divulge his stadium hopes until after Election Day. But when he finally makes his case, perhaps he shouldn't be so quick to use the threat of a move to New Jersey. Contrary to the bluster coming from George and Mayor Giuliani, sources tell the Voice that there is no such plan or even planning for a plan.

John Samerjan, vice president of public affairs for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, has been listening to such innuendo for years and reading "the horseshit that's been written about it." Nowadays, when the New York papers talk about imminent deals with New Jersey, he has one main reaction. "With all due respect, it's that Howard [Yankee spokesman and PR guru Howard Rubinstein] has picked up the phone again to his friends at the tabloids," he says. "It's the way it's been for 10 years."

"The bottom line on something like this, no matter where it is, no matter what franchise," Samerjan points out, "is you need the same four basic things, or else you're dealing in fantasy. You need the team, you need a site, you need financing, and you need league/ legal approval. And I think when it comes to New Jersey and Major League Baseball, none of those four things exist."

One thing that does exist is a purchase offer from Cablevision and its boss, Charles Dolan. After weepily telling the Daily News that he wouldn't sell his World Series champs for all the money in the world, Steinbrenner dried his eyes enough to later inform Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay that "for right now the plan is not to sell the whole team."

Taken at his word, Steinbrenner has left open an interesting possibility: selling Cablevision a significant percentage of the team--much as the late Gene Autry did when he sold a 25 percent interest in his California Angels to Disney in 1995. That deal was made with an option for Disney to buy out the rest of the team upon Autry's death or retirement. It's an arrangement that could satisfy Steinbrenner's reported cash-flow problems and Cablevision's quest for valuable broadcast rights.

"Cablevision might be willing to let him have a controlling interest, except with regard to broadcasting," says sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. "The idea of some kind of joint ownership would evolve toward Cablevision."

If there is such a deal look for it soon. "His team has peaked," says Zimbalist. "If he waits and loses on the stadium then the bubble bursts."

 
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