Morsani’s new book sheds light on baseball back-stabbing –

There was a time when a philanthropist, entrepreneur and community-minded man wanted to bring Major League Baseball here. That team would have played in a ballpark he wanted to build next to what is now Raymond James Stadium. He didn’t plan to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for that ballpark. His plan was that his Tampa Bay Baseball Group would pay for it.

That man is Frank Morsani.

His idea for a privately financed stadium as home for a team came years before St. Petersburg officials jumped in, building what is known now as Tropicana Field without a public vote. Baseball fans throughout the area are still paying for that decision.

They’re also still paying for the unconscionable decision of MLB executives to go back on their promise of an expansion team to Morsani. Instead, those varlets notified him by a fax one day that his group had not been chosen to represent Tampa Bay in the expansion sweepstakes. They wound up awarding teams to Miami and Denver.

How much different would our baseball experience have been here if only baseball had kept its promise to Morsani? I was thinking about that as I read the chapter titled “Betrayed by Baseball” in Morsani’s new book “To Be Frank” — ably co-written by local author Dave Scheiber.

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The team would have been in the center of the market, instead of the fringe like it is now in St. Pete. Attendance would have been better. We wouldn’t have the drama over a new home for baseball that we do now. I think Stu Sternberg has been a terrific owner for the Rays, but Morsani’s gentle manner and generosity would have made him as revered as Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is now.

Morsani was honored Thursday night with a reception hosted by the University of South Florida. It drew a large crowd, including former Gov. Bob Martinez and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. Everyone came to lavish praise on the 84-year-old Morsani, as well they should.

He is one of the most decent men I have ever known.

If he gives his word on anything, that’s good enough for me.

You can see the evidence of the goodwill he feels for his adopted hometown all over Tampa. The man believes in giving back, especially at USF, where you will find the Morsani College of Medicine. That’s part of the $43 million he has donated to the school, much of it to benefit medical arts.

The baseball trail is where I met him more than 30 years ago. I was covering the area’s pursuit of a team in great detail for The Tampa Tribune, so Frank and I spoke early and often. I had a front-row seat to the shabby treatment this honorable man received.

It looks even worse in hindsight.

It started when his TBBG bought 42 percent of the Minnesota Twins from one of the minority owners, with the intent to move it to the stadium here he wanted to build.

Baseball didn’t want the Twins moved, though, and cut a compromise. If Morsani would sell the Tampa shares to Minneapolis businessman Carl Pohlad for the approximately $50 million they had paid — no profit on the sale — Tampa Bay would, as Morsani wrote, “be awarded with an expansion team.”

I was at the meeting in Philadelphia when that was announced. That’s what then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn confirmed.

Baseball kept stalling and stalling on expansion, though. And it kept lying to Morsani.

He had an agreement to buy the Oakland Athletics. It fell apart.

He had a contract to buy the Texas Rangers. I was in Montreal at another owners meeting when Rangers owner Eddie Chiles told me and other reporters how he regretted signing the deal with Morsani and claimed he had been misled into believing the team would stay in Texas.


When Chiles was done talking and trashing the deal he had made, he looked at his attorney and said, “Is that about it?”

The attorney answered, sadly shaking his head as he spoke, “Yeah, Eddie. That’s about it.”

The deal died.

Morsani eventually sued baseball for $153 million and won a settlement, although he has never ­disclosed the amount he received. We wound up with the Rays because Vince Naimoli sued for $3.5 billion when baseball thwarted his deal to buy the San Francisco Giants.

There was all that drama because baseball, unlike Frank Morsani, didn’t keep its word. Baseball fans here are still paying for that.


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