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BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Giants Go Down to Defeat in San Jose

Although California voters on Tuesday passed two ballot proposals to finance construction and improvement of public schools, even education hasn’t been a priority in these tough economic times.

It should be no surprise that voters in San Jose took a dim view of fun and games, rejecting a utility tax increase that would have helped build a $265-million stadium for the San Francisco Giants.

Proponents estimated that residential utility bills would have increased only $2.90 per month, but the measure was soundly defeated, 54.5% to 45.5%.

The indication in San Jose was that baseball may remain the national pastime, but not at the increased expense of individual taxpayers. That should have been no surprise to Bob Lurie, owner of the Giants.

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He has lost stadium elections four times in the last six years--twice in San Francisco and once before in Santa Clara County.

“Thousands of Bay Area fans who again pinned their hopes on the success of this measure are again left to wonder about the future of the Giants,” a disappointed Lurie said in conceding defeat Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, he met with a group of Candlestick Park employees to reassure them that he has no immediate plan or long-range timetable to move or sell the team.

He had no other public comment except to indicate through a club spokesman that he will confer with Commissioner Fay Vincent and National League President Bill White in New York next week, then review his options.

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It is not clear what those options are, although he has frequently indicated that remaining in the wind, fog and cold of Candlestick is not one of them.

In that regard, he would seem to have an ally in Vincent, who was also critical of Candlestick when he campaigned on behalf of the San Jose stadium. The commissioner expressed disappointment with the vote Wednesday but refused to speculate on the Giants’ future.

If it is not in Candlestick, Lurie would seem to have painted himself into a similar corner regarding another ballot measure, insisting that he cannot face the emotions of a fifth election.

On Wednesday, San Francisco supervisor Angela Alioto said that her board would consider two new downtown sites, with the possibility of taking it to the voters again in November. But with Mayor Frank Jordan facing a recall campaign amid considerable political unrest in that city, many see little chance of a new stadium proposal, particularly as soon as this winter.

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Among Lurie’s other options?

--He could sell, but to whom?

--He could move, but where?

With deep roots in San Francisco, it is suspected that he will first attempt to find a Bay Area buyer--no certainty considering that the price is likely to be $100 million or more for a team that has drawn more than two million only once in 33 years and has no other place to play except Candlestick.

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As for moving--or selling to a group from another city--the leading possibilities are Washington, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Orlando, New Orleans and Buffalo. But each would have significant hurdles beyond the National League’s bottom-line reluctance to leave the Bay Area.

The American League, having already lost Miami to the National League, is unlikely to approve another NL foothold in Florida, and might also object to a return to Washington, believing it would dilute Baltimore’s attendance.

There are questions about the population base in New Orleans, and concerns about the ability of Buffalo to draw, considering its proximity to the already major league axis of Toronto, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

It adds up to one more franchise problem at a time when baseball can’t find buyers for the Minnesota, Baltimore or Houston teams, and can’t seem to resolve the Seattle ownership situation.

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The only certainty in a time of economic uncertainty may have been expressed by San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, who said that her city has lost a significant opportunity for major league status but added, “The voters are the best judges of how they want to spend their money.”


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