Baseball team owners allow Murdoch to join their club

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WHAT does the man who has everything buy? A baseball team. Rupert Murdoch will purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers for a reported $311m (pounds 195m) to $350m after overcoming one of those annoying obstacles that the seriously wealthy despise - getting permission.

His Fox group needed, and finally got yesterday the go-ahead from the 30 owners of Major League baseball teams.

Despite objections that owning a team would be a conflict of interests for Fox since it already controls television transmission rights for 22 Major League teams, baseball's Ownership Committee voted overwhelmingly - reportedly by 27 to two, with one abstention - to approve the purchase. In the end it came down to a battle of the billionaire media moguls. Mr Murdoch felt confident enough to stay away from the meeting in a swanky beachfront hotel in the Florida city of St Petersburg. His arch-rival Ted Turner did not.

Mr Turner, who launched CNN, is vice-chairman of Time-Warner and who owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team, does not normally grace the baseball owners' meetings with his presence. But he felt enough about Mr Murdoch's latest US invasion to end his decade-long boycott of the Ownership Committee. After all, he once compared Mr Murdoch with Hitler. "Like the late Fuhrer," he said then, "he controls the media for his own personal benefit. He is crazed for money and power. I fear him and I don't trust him." Murdoch aides later noted that Mr Turner had used the Olympic Games in Atlanta two years ago to get a swish new home for his Atlanta Braves - a partly chopped-off (for-baseball) Olympic Stadium.

Mr Turner's remarks to the meeting in St Petersburg yesterday were not revealed. But he and at least two other team owners feared Mr Murdoch would play by his own rules and use Fox's influence in television transmission deals to gain leverage over teams beyond the Dodgers.

One owner originally wary of Mr Murdoch's purchase, John Moores of the San Diego Padres, said he feared Mr Murdoch's involvement, and increased influence by Fox, would further drive up baseball's sky-high salary scale. A dispute between owners and players, who wanted more money and less restrictions, shut Major League baseball three years ago, a catastrophic event for baseball fans said to have caused a baby boom among some and marriage breakdowns among others.

In the end, Mr Moores reportedly voted in favour. Only Mr Turner's Atlanta Braves and the Chicago White Sox voted against and the New York Mets abstained, according to sources at the meeting. The majority apparently believed Mr Murdoch's knowledge and clout in the broadcasting business would be a boost for baseball. Under the Ownership Committee statutes, he needed the approval of 20 of the 30 current team owners.

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