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VINCENT PLANS TO SUPPORT JAPANESE BID TO BUY MARINERS

Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent and the head of baseball's ownership committee plan to support a Japanese-backed bid to buy the Mariners, a Seattle newspaper reported Tuesday.

Two sources who asked not to be identified said Vincent and Fred Kuhlmann, president of the St. Louis Cardinals and chairman of the ownership committee, told the Seattle-based buyer's group they would endorse the sale, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.Approval requires the support of 11 of 14 American League owners and seven of 12 National League owners.

Vincent and Kuhlmann told The Baseball Club of Seattle on Friday that they would support the offer by Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Kyoto-based Nintendo Co. Ltd., and by Western Washington business leaders, the sources said.

But Kuhlmann denied he told the buyers' group he supports the bid and said he only intends to present the proposal to the ownership committee.

Through a spokesman, Vincent declined comment.

Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan put the team up for sale in December for $100 million. The prospective buyers have raised that amount, plus $25 million to operate the team.

Smulyan refused to comment on the report and Mariners spokesman Dave Aust said little.

"To me it looks like speculation and we're just waiting until something happens," Aust said Tuesday.

The ownership committee will meet, perhaps by conference call, within two weeks, Kuhlmann said.