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Japanese Company Involved in Purchase of Minor League Baseball Team

February 23, 1990

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ A minor-league baseball team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox has been sold to a major Japanese brewery, and the new owners say they don’t plan any major changes for the successful farm club.

The new owners of the Birmingham Barons are Martin Kuehnert, an American, and a new holding company formed by Suntory International. The New York-based company is the U.S. subsidiary of Suntory Limited, a Japanese multinational food, beverage and restaurant company.

Kuehnert, 43, who spent the past 20 years as a sports entrepreneur and broadcaster in Japan, will be the Barons’ new president and chief executive officer.

Suntory spokesman Takafumi Kashiwagi said in Tokyo that there would be no other changes in team management and that Suntory would not employ any of its executives with the team.

No financial details of the sale were disclosed. However, Asahi Shimbun, a national newspaper in Japan, estimated the price at more than $3 million.

The brewery, which recently began sports and music businesses in Japan, plans to expand its entertainment operations. He said the company had no intention of buying a Japanese baseball team.

″When it comes to entertainment, America is an advanced country, and we are hoping to learn a lot from the Barons,″ Kashiwagi said.

Baseball is a national sport in Japan, and former American baseball players regularly play for Japanese teams. A Japanese major league team recently offered to buy the Durham Bulls in North Carolina after some of its officials saw ″Bull Durham,″ the movie about the minor league club, but the team president said it wasn’t for sale.

Art Clarkson, the Barons’ principal owner, will remain with the organization as general manager and chief operating officer.

″We have 100 percent control,″ said Kuehnert, who returned to the United States in October and has bought a house in the Birmingham area. ″Suntory is the majority owner and I’m the minority owner.″

The Barons play in the Class AA Southern League and the sale is expected to be approved by league directors.

Some minor-league teams in the United States are owned by major-league teams, others are privately owned. The privately owned teams work under agreements with the major league teams to train its players.

Suntory International imports wine, beer and other beverages into the United States and is a soft drink bottler. It also owns Chateau St. Jean Winery in Sonoma, Calif., and restaurants in Boston, Chicago and Honolulu.

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