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Expos Bid Adieu to Montreal

After 36 seasons in Canada, the team is relocating to Washington, whose last baseball team left in 1971.

September 30, 2004|Steve Henson and Emma Schwartz | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Canada's loss is a capital gain. After three years of uncertainty, the Montreal Expos will have a new home in Washington.

The move was announced Wednesday to great fanfare, bringing baseball back to the area locals refer to as "the District" for the first time since the Washington Senators bolted for Texas in 1971.

"It's quite a historic day," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said.

Washington outbid five locations -- Northern Virginia; Norfolk, Va.; Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas and Monterrey, Mexico. The final hurdle was appeasing Baltimore Oriole owner Peter Angelos, who objected to having a team relocate only 40 miles to the south.

Angelos met with Major League Baseball President Bob DuPuy twice in the last week to hammer out a compromise. Selig would not comment on details of the deal, but it is believed to include guarantees on Oriole revenues and resale value. Also under discussion was forming a regional sports network that would broadcast the games of the Orioles and the team in Washington.

"I believe as we move forward there will be equity on all sides," Selig said. "When all is said and done, in the end this is in the best interest of the sport."

The team does not have an owner or even a name, but it does have a place to play until a ballpark is built -- Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The District of Columbia Council is expected to approve legislation for $13 million to renovate the stadium and must vote on whether to spend more than $400 million on a new stadium, which would be completed by 2008.

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams wants 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 Capitol. City officials say the stadium would benefit the neighborhood, attracting new businesses.

But three recently elected city council members who ousted incumbents in the Oct. 14 Democratic primary oppose financing a stadium with tax money. They will take their seats next year, meaning the current council has three months to approve the stadium, which city officials said would be funded through the taxes on the team, goods sold at the stadium and on large local businesses.

"It's the team owners, business owners, the stadium users who are paying for this -- and not one dime of a D.C. resident is covering this important investment in our city," Williams said.

Other officials are less optimistic.

"I think everybody is excited about baseball coming to the District," Councilman Adrian Fenty said. "Very few District residents are excited about a full subsidy to pay for this stadium. At the end of the day, you're not going to have seven council members support it."

It is unclear whether Selig has a contingency plan if the deal falls through. "I hope we are never faced with that possibility," he said.

There are other obstacles. The team's relocation must be approved by three-quarters of the baseball owners in November and survive lawsuits by former limited partners of the Expos. Baseball purchased the Expos for $120 million in February 2002 from Jeffrey Loria, who now owns the Florida Marlins.

It is estimated that the team will sell for more than $300 million in an auction to be held probably this fall. A leading group interested in purchasing the team consists of six partners influential in Washington, including Frederic Malek, former partner in the Texas Rangers; Franklin Raines, chairman and chief executive of Fannie Mae; and James Kimsey, founding chief executive of America Online. Other potential owners could be groups headed by Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves, the NBA's Hawks and the NHL's Thrashers, and by New York real estate developer Mark Broxmeyer.

"The sooner we can get a new owner, the better off we'll all be," said Selig, adding that the new owner would determine the team's name.

The Expos played their last game in Montreal on Wednesday night against the Florida Marlins. The team started play in 1969 at Jarry Park and moved to Olympic Stadium in 1977. Attendance has dwindled in recent years and most of the team's top players either were traded or left as soon as they became free agents.

"It's a day when the sun is setting in Montreal, but it's rising in Washington," Expo President Tony Tavares said at a news conference in Montreal.

In Washington, dozens of people gathered outside the City Museum, where the announcement was made. Some boasted a proposed logo design for the team -- a red, white and blue W with a baseball and the top of the Capitol in the center.

Several people held signs asking for the team to be named the Grays after Washington's former Negro League team from the 1930s and 1940s.

"How do you not want to honor that history?" said Laura Meissner, an American University graduate student holding a sign. "If you want your team to be starting off with a great legacy, you can't get any better than the Grays."

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