Monday, Dec. 20, 2004 | 11:06 a.m.
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, who has put together an ownership group to bid for a Major League Baseball team, said he thinks Las Vegas is ready to become a big-league city.
"Do I think it's real? Yes," he said of the possibility of major-league sports coming to the valley. "I think you have a better chance of being America's team than any place else."
But Jackson, a part-time resident of Las Vegas, would not say which team his group is pursuing and would not say what would happen if and when he bought a club. Nor would he say if he would try to bring a team to Las Vegas.
He said he is not in the bidding for the Montreal Expos, the team being sold by the league, because he has a teenage daughter in Southern California and wants to be close to her. The Expos, renamed the Nationals, are expected to play in Washington.
"I've got to live with the team," Jackson said. "It makes it tough to live in Washington."
The field of established franchises in this part of the country has narrowed since the Los Angeles Dodgers sold earlier this year and the Anaheim Angels sold in 2003.
However, Jackson's group could bid for a struggling franchise. A number of small-market teams have been mentioned as possibilities for being sold, moved or both. Among them are the Florida Marlins, the Minnesota Twins and the Oakland A's.
Jackson's New York business associate and partner, Brian Shapiro, said the "bodies are in motion" in baseball and there could be opportunities for the sale of a team.
"He's building the perfect ownership group and opportunity," Shapiro said. "I think it's as real as anything."
Neither Jackson nor Shapiro would comment on their plans or the ownership group Jackson had assembled, though Shaprio did say Jackson would be the managing owner of the team.
Both were hesitant to go into many details, noting the process of buying a team is complicated. The group will have to find a club for sale and present a winning bid. Any sale has to be approved by Major League Baseball's club owners.
"You have to play the game by their rules," he said. "You have to be accepted. When they say you're ready. That goes for the city as well."
While Jackson said he wanted to be low-profile, his presence would likely bring added heft to any proposal.
An icon of baseball in the 1970s and '80s, Jackson is well known throughout the country and is well connected inside the sport.
Nicknamed "Mr. October" for his postseason play -- he hit 10 home runs and batted .357 in 27 World Series games -- Jackson was part of five World Series champion teams. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1993, the first year he was eligible.
In his 21-year career, Jackson hit .262 with 563 home runs, ninth on the all-time list. He played for four franchises -- the Kansas City and Oakland A's, the Baltimore Orioles, the New York Yankees and the California Angels.
His name had been floated in connection with the ownership bids for the Expos, a process that gave Las Vegas exposure as a potential big-league city. A private group had proposed moving the Expos to Southern Nevada.
The deal the Expos had in Washington has stalled over the financing of the proposed stadium for the club. As the deal has sputtered, Las Vegas has received a second look.
Earlier this month Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman went to the league's winter meetings in Anaheim with a showgirl on each arm and an Elvis impersonator alongside. He also met with several people trying to lay the groundwork for a team.
Shapiro said he has had conversations with Goodman, although he refused to discuss those.
"I think it's a very real location for a major-league sports franchise, Major League Baseball being a likely candidate," Shapiro said, talking generally of the area.
Goodman declined to comment.
"When I'm asked to keep confidences, I keep them," he said.
Jackson, now an adviser to the New York Yankees, has been interested in buying a franchise for several years. He put together a group to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers, offering $300 million, he said, before Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought the club in 1998.
"I don't think I was taken seriously," Jackson said.
Shapiro said the group Jackson has assembled this time is "as formidable as any in baseball."
"His group has enough money to buy the National League," Shapiro said. "It's probably the best ownership group in baseball."
The Expos were sold to Major League Baseball in 2002 for $120 million. The Dodgers sold for $430 million and the Angels for $183.5 million.
"We're real," Jackson said. "Baseball knows who we are and knows we're ready and capable."
Jackson said he has good businessmen on board, and he and Shapiro both called members of the group "pillars" of their communities. Jackson said that is very important to him.
"It's easy to find money," he said. "You want people who are socially conscious."
He said baseball clubs often ask for millions of dollars from a community going in, especially with the cost of a new stadium. The deal in Washington has stalled over the public portion of financing for a stadium estimated to cost between $440 million and $585 million.
"You have to be socially conscious," Jackson said. "The $400 (million) or $500 million comes from people (in the community) with much greater needs than watching a baseball game -- food, warmth, a new refrigerator."
Jackson said the team should be involved in the community and the players should be engaged in those community efforts.
"There are lots of things you can do in the community," Jackson said.
Jackson said he thought Las Vegas could overcome any potential negatives that have been used in the past to stop major-league sports from looking seriously at Las Vegas.
"I have not heard a negative about a baseball team coming here," Jackson said.
Neither Jackson nor Shapiro would speculate on the timing. But, he said, "things are going on all the time, almost every day."
Jackson's bid is also of "historic significance," Shapiro said. He would be the first black and only the second minority to buy a Major League team. Arte Moreno, who is Hispanic, bought the Angels in 2003.
Jackson, 58, would be just the second black to own a professional sports franchise at the major-league level. Robert Johnson, Black Entertainment Television's founder, became the first black to own a franchise when he won the right to buy the expansion basketball team the Charlotte Bobcats in 2003.