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Sold! John Henry Buys Marlins


Commodities trader John Henry completed his $150 million purchase of the Florida Marlins on Friday, less than 48 hours after he said the deal was dead.

Following two days of public feuding over stalled negotiations, Henry and Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga put aside their differences and closed the sale soon after resuming talks.

"I signed documents tonight, so the deal is done," Henry said while attending a team banquet. "The process is over with. This has been a dream I've had for a long time. I'm just a little overcome by the whole thing."

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The 49-year-old Henry, a multimillionaire commodities trader from Boca Raton, Fla., bought the troubled franchise for $150 million cash and also agreed to pay $8 million for renovations at Pro Player Stadium.

Henry, weary of Huizenga's gamesmanship in negotiations, this week said the deal was off and scheduled a news conference for Saturday, presumably to announce he was withdrawing his offer. That news conference was canceled late Friday.

"Wayne and I met a couple of hours ago in his office," Henry said. "We hugged each other, and we had some laughs."

For weeks, the contentious negotiations were played out in public, creating a new spectator sport in South Florida. During a news conference Thursday, Huizenga accused Henry of negotiating with lies to the media, and on Friday the Marlins' founding owner agreed to a rare interview with the team's flagship radio station, WQAM.

Huizenga acknowledged that he's unaccustomed to negotiating in sound bites.

"I've done a couple of thousand deals in my life buying and selling companies, and I've never seen anything like this," he said.

Within hours, the deal was done.

But ill will between the two South Florida businessmen left the outcome in doubt until the end. Henry issued a nine-paragraph statement Friday afternoon indicating he was upset b the tone of Huizenga's news conference.

"To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in all of my years of business that someone has attacked my integrity," Henry said.

The final unresolved issue, Huizenga said, was a minor matter involving television rights fees.

The sale comes 17 months after Huizenga put the team on the market. He claims the Marlins lost $34 million in 1997, when they won the World Series, and lost money again this year while finishing with the National League's worst record since 1969.

Skeptics, however, question Huizenga's accounting methods.

The deal renders moot Huizenga's apparently serious proposal that the operation of the Marlins -- under his ownership -- be taken over by an 11-member board of directors that would include sports editors, fans and county commissioners.

Instead, the team has a new boss. Henry's top priority will be to seek public financing for a new stadium.

He already has a new manager. Because of uncertainty about the future of the franchise, manager Jim Leyland resigned Oct. 1 and was replaced by John Boles, the Marlins' vice president of player development.

Huizenga had the team for its first six seasons. He still owns the NFL Miami Dolphins, the NHL Florida Panthers and Pro Player Stadium.

Henry's top priority will be to seek public financing for a new stadium.

He already has a new manager. Because of uncertainty about the future of the franchise, manager Jim Leyland resigned Oct. 1 and was replaced by John Boles, the Marlins' vice president of player development.

Henry plans on a payroll next year of about $25 million, nearly double the payroll at the end of the 1998 season. Coincidentally, the free-agent signing period began Friday, but the Marlins won't be in the market for any high-priced acquisitions.

"Regardless of who owns the team, we hadn't planned on pursuing bigger-name free agent players," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We'll wait to see where the market goes, but we're not going to be involved with the big guys."

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