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Expos' Move to D.C. Appears to Be Set

September 24, 2004|Chris Foster and Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writers

Major League Baseball's executive council is likely to announce soon that Washington D.C. will be the next home of the Montreal Expos, multiple sources say.

The council met Thursday in Milwaukee and listened to a presentation from Baltimore Oriole owner Peter Angelos, who says a team in Washington, about 40 miles away, would cost the Orioles $30 million to $40 million in annual revenue. Baseball's relocation committee did not make a recommendation, but the executive council is expected to announce the Expos' move despite Angelos' concerns, sources said.

Issues surrounding who would buy the team and the location of a new stadium remain, but the protracted process will move to a conclusion next week with the nation's capital likely to get a third crack at its own major league team. The previous teams, both called the Senators, left Washington after poor attendance and financial troubles -- one became the Minnesota Twins after the 1960 season; the other became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.

The relocation plan would need the approval of 22 owners, but Commissioner Bud Selig rarely makes a major move without already knowing he has the necessary support. It is unclear whether Angelos would be compensated, sources said.

The Expos, a 1969 expansion team, have struggled financially for years. They were targeted for elimination in 2001 and have been run by Major League Baseball since 2002. The team has played several "home" games in San Juan, Puerto Rico the last three seasons.

The D.C. area has been the front-runner to land the team, although Portland, Ore., Las Vegas, Northern Virginia, San Antonio and Monterrey, Mexico are also candidates.

Washington's hopes received a boost Tuesday, when the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission unveiled plans for a publicly financed stadium, which will cost more than $400 million -- including $13 million to renovate RFK Stadium, where the team will play for three seasons until a new stadium is built.

Washington D.C. officials want to bring the team into the heart of one of the city's most blighted areas, on the western edge of the Anacostia River, a mile south of the U.S. Capitol. Though few argue with luring a new team, the proposed stadium has evoked disagreement among city officials and the public.

City officials say the stadium would benefit the neighborhood, attracting new businesses. But some -- including three recently elected city council members who ousted incumbents in the Oct. 14 Democratic primary and will take their seats next year -- oppose financing a stadium with tax money.

There are also concerns about the effect on the area where the stadium is planned.

Butch Hopkins, president of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, said, "there's nothing to displace in that area," but others disagree.

Longtime D.C. resident Queen Esther Culver, 44, said she was excited about a team but worries that the proposed location for a stadium would hurt the neighborhood.

"People there just got stabilized," said Culver, who lives nearby. "If they put a stadium in, people might be forced to move out of there. We have too many other problems that we need to focus on, like our public schools and housing."

Washington has had a colorful, although far from successful, baseball history. The franchise was portrayed in the book "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant" -- the basis for the Broadway musical and movie "Damn Yankees," where a middle-age man sells his soul to the Devil so he can help the Senators win the American League pennant.

Reality was harsher on the team, which was tagged with the moniker "first in war, first in peace, last in the American League." The original Senators featured Walter "The Big Train" Johnson, considered among the best pitchers the game has produced. Yet in Johnson's 21 seasons, the team won only one World Series, beating the New York Giants in 1924.

The Senators appeared in only two other World Series in their history, losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1925 and the Giants in 1933.

After the team moved to Minnesota for the 1961 season, Washington D.C immediately received an expansion franchise. The new Senators continued the lack of success, finishing higher than eighth in the then 10-team American League only once in their first eight seasons.

But while both teams suffered from fan apathy, residents seem eager for another chance.

George Page, a 48-year-old camera salesman, remembers childhood outings with his uncles to Senator games, which first got him hooked on the game. But when the team left, Page turned to the Baltimore Orioles.

These days, though, he's tired of driving to Baltimore. And, he said, "the youth in the city need it.

"The more things they have to do the better. Many parents can't afford to take their kids all the way to Baltimore."

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Times staff writer Emma Schwartz contributed to this report from Washington D.C.

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