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Inside Baseball | Ross Newhan / ON BASEBALL

It's Time to Help the Expos Feel at Home

August 08, 2004|Ross Newhan

The shadows of autumn are beginning to encroach on baseball's oft-delayed plan to reveal the 2005 home of the Montreal Expos before the end of summer.

There was no announcement during the All-Star break, as first anticipated, and there won't be any Aug. 17-18 at the owners' meeting in Philadelphia, where the contract of Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to be extended for three years.

That would take Selig through 2009, by which point we can be almost certain something will have been decided about those virtually homeless waifs from Montreal.

Selig, of course, insists the wait won't be that long, but did anyone anticipate that the Expos would remain under house ownership for three seasons, a fallout of the failed contraction episode and now one of the darkest chapters in baseball history?

The beat goes on for the weary Expos, the diligent work of Tony Tavares, Omar Minaya and Frank Robinson in trying to maintain a competitive team and some degree, at least, of Canadian interest compromised by an unforgiving travel schedule and equally unforgiving payroll. That payroll was established by the commissioner's office and 29 other owners, who might have been getting a return on their investment if they had allowed the visiting Expos to remain a team worth seeing.

Now, summer ends Sept. 21 and Selig says he is confident a decision on relocation will be made, if not before then, soon thereafter.

"It's time," he said. "We're moving ahead, we'll get it done. We all know it's critical. We know this hasn't been the best thing.

"In the end, there simply wasn't any owner interest in Montreal. I mean, we would have sold it a hundred times over, but there was no one there."

At one point, not long ago, there was an owner named Jeffrey Loria, but he was bought out by the commissioner's office and other owners, and used that money to buy the Florida Marlins from John Henry, who used that money in buying the Boston Red Sox

Some might raise an eyebrow at that chain of events, wondering who provided the orchestration, but we are where we are.

It's just that where that is still isn't entirely clear.

The assumption has been that the Expos, despite all the lip service given to the other candidates in the relocation process, would end up in Washington or, perhaps, Northern Virginia -- across the Potomac from the District of Columbia at a site near Dulles Airport in Loudoun County, the fastest-growing county in the country.

Basically, none of the other candidates -- Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., San Antonio, Norfolk, Va., and Monterrey, Mexico -- have the population base and/or the economic base and/or an interim facility to match RFK Stadium and the Washington or Northern Virginia sites.

Yet there has been no apparent decision, no apparent indication that baseball is satisfied with any of the financial and ballpark proposals.

If some owners also remain concerned about giving Washington a third try at supporting a major league team, the larger issue may remain Peter Angelos.

The Baltimore Oriole owner is unalterably opposed to a team in Washington or Northern Virginia, figuring that the proximity to Baltimore would degrade the attendance of two teams and cost the Orioles $40 million in lost gate and broadcasting revenues per season.

He has also shown little interest in the possibility that the commissioner's office and other owners might compensate him financially out of the sale price of the Expos.

For a long period, Selig seemed determined to forge ahead, largely dismissing the Oriole owner's objections and pointing out that Angelos had no territorial claim to the Washington area.

Recently, however, Selig has been more sensitive in his comments, as he was when reached in Milwaukee and said, "We always have to be concerned with the well-being of an existing franchise and sensitive to the arguments it raises."

How sensitive?

According to sources, Selig told Angelos at the All-Star game that he would not do anything in relocating the Expos that would make the Oriole owner unhappy, then repeated that comment in a later meeting with the industry's bankers.

Does that mean Washington and Northern Virginia have been eliminated from consideration, as some have concluded?

"Not at all," said Selig. "No one has been eliminated."

It's Aug. 8. Whether Monterrey, Portland and San Antonio remain serious candidates seems problematic, but who knows?

This much we do know: Bob DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer, and other members of the relocation committee were in Washington on Thursday, meeting with both D.C. and Northern Virginia officials, and it's inconceivable that the industry would have eliminated the two most feasible sites, given the range of concerns at the other sites.

Besides, would the Washington and Northern Virginia supporters -- civic and private -- ever pursue a franchise again if rejected at a time when they seem to be the most logical locations? Could baseball ever seriously use them again -- for leverage or legitimacy?

Summer fades, fall approaches, and it's time already. The poor Expos have been fall guys long enough.

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