Baseball: Lurie's planned leap for Giants

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The Independent Online
IMAGINE a property developer buying Liverpool FC and dragging the club off to Milton Keynes. John Peel would probably chain himself to the railings outside No 10. In the land of the brave and the free, however, where pockets run deeper than loyalties, betrayals of this ilk are commonplace.

Baseball, reputedly the one American sport to give a hoot for tradition, is about to ratify the latest in a succession of relocations. Provided a majority of the other 25 major league owners concur with Bob Lurie's proposed dollars 100m-plus ( pounds 52m) sale, the San Franciso Giants will metamorphose into a sizeable presence in St Petersburgh, Florida, next season.

Triggered by the refusal of residents to approve proposals for a new stadium - the lease on the Giants' Candlestick Park premises expires in 1994 - the projected move will also terminate a century-old rivalry. Until both franchises emigrated to the West Coast in 1957, the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers were the Big Apple's answer to Arsenal and Tottenham.

Leo Durocher, who later committed the ultimate act of treason by leaving the Dodgers to manage the Giants, first uttered his immortal 'nice guys finish last' catchphrase as a dig at Mel Ott, his New York counterpart.

Reincarnated as the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers and reunited in the National League West, local hostilities remained. After the Giants had foiled the Dodgers' pennant hopes on the final weekend of the 1991 regular season, their garrulous first baseman, Will Clark, openly sniggered when asked for his reaction.

The pair will stay in the same division, but the distance from LA to St Petersburgh is 2,500 miles, too far to keep the fires of antipathy burning.

'It's a real shock,' Roger Craig, the Giants' long-serving manager, acknowledged. 'It's going to hurt the economy here.' Frank Jordan, the Mayor of San Francisco, bristles with defiance: 'I'm not going to let it happen without a fight.'

Lurie, conversely, will be relieved to offload the Giants. Having lost dollars 6m on his investment in 1991, he expects to be dollars 7.5m in the red this year, thanks to a hefty dollars 32m payroll, and a dearth of on-field success. Indeed, the Giants have failed to win a World Series in the Bay Area, this amid an unusually democratic era in which 12 rivals have managed the feat at least once.

Depression, meanwhile, is gripping the Candlestick faithful, a hardy breed whose concept of fun is to sit shivering in a windswept ballpark susceptible to the odd earthquake, such as the one that interrupted the 1990 World Series. Gates, though, are meagre. Once the deal is confirmed, Michael Douglas and Karl Malden are unlikely to be summoned from retirement to restore order on the streets of San Francisco.