Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says the team won't sign any agreement to move to Florida before Illinois lawmakers vote on a measure designed to keep the team in Chicago.
Reinsdorf and team President Eddie Einhorn on Wednesday signed a lease on a proposed new baseball stadium in Chicago. But the deal is contingent on legislative approval, and Gov. James R. Thompson warned lawmakers not to pass up the chance."If we lose this opportunity and the White Sox go to Florida, we will have shot ourselves not in the foot but in the head," Thompson said during the taping of a cable television program.
Reinsdorf said the team had not reached a final agreement with officials in St. Petersburg, Fla., but he added that the team wouldn't dismiss the Florida option unless Illinois lawmakers acted favorably.
"We have had a lot of serious discussions with people in St. Petersburg," Reinsdorf said. "It was only prudent to have a backup, and it's only prudent to maintain a backup if this legislation doesn't pass."
On Tuesday, a St. Petersburg official said the city and the White Sox had agreed on all major points of a lease, including a pledge that the Sox will move to Florida if the Illinois package falls through.
The agreement was reached during telephone conversations with team officials, said Assistant City Manager Rick Dodge, St. Petersburg's chief negotiator with the Sox. Team officials are expected to have a formal contract drawn by the end of the week, Dodge said.
"Basically, it takes the `may' out of the equation," Dodge said. "If the deal in Illinois doesn't work out, the Sox will move to St. Petersburg."
Illinois originally agreed to fund a new White Sox stadium in late 1986, but team officials this year demanded changes in the original pact because of what they said were changes in their financial circumstances.
The revisions to be put before Illinois lawmakers would tie rent on the new stadium to attendance, saving the White Sox as much as $60 million in their first 10 years in the facility.
The team has pledged to stay in Illinois if lawmakers endorse the revised lease. Reinsdorf declined to say what the White Sox would do if the proposal is rejected.
"What we want to do is get this legislation passed and get this over with and build a stadium" in Chicago, Reinsdorf said.
Chances for legislative approval in Illinois appeared to dim Tuesday with the collapse of Thompson's effort to win a tax increase.
Though stadium funding is not directly dependent on higher taxes, lawmakers said it would be difficult to vote for aid to the White Sox while schools, mental health agencies and others complain they are being shortchanged.