Despite mounting speculation that the Montreal Expos will attempt to relocate to the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., Orioles owner Peter Angelos said yesterday that he remains very confident Major League Baseball will not split the Baltimore/Washington baseball market.
The debate over the viability of a second franchise in the market has been going on for years, but the likelihood of a franchise shift from Montreal to the Washington suburbs has increased along with the turmoil inside the Expos organization. And there have been published reports that Major League Baseball officials - long opposed to franchise relocation - are warming to the idea.
The Washington Times, quoting unnamed sources, reported in yesterday's editions that baseball officials have determined that Angelos would have no legal recourse if baseball approved a franchise. But Angelos challenged the story's validity and said that he does not believe that baseball commissioner Bud Selig would do anything to damage the economic stability of the Orioles franchise.
"I don't believe that anybody in Major League Baseball is discussing or advocating the placement of a baseball franchise 35-40 miles from the Orioles," Angelos said by telephone from his Baltimore law office. "I don't think anyone in Major League Baseball is saying that, so I place no credence in the story.
"I'm confident that it won't happen, because I understand the economics of baseball. I know that Bud Selig is committed to building the stability of Major League Baseball. Knowing that he understands the economics of the game, I wouldn't expect him to advocate putting a ballclub within 35 or 40 miles of an existing one."
Selig has been a critic of franchise relocation since the Braves moved out of Milwaukee in 1965, but seemed to leave the door open to an Expos shift during a recent interview on the subject.
If that happens, Major League Baseball could face a legal challenge from Angelos, but the Orioles owner - and high-profile attorney - said there is no need to talk about a possible lawsuit because the economic case against a second franchise in the region speaks for itself. Angelos is convinced that the arrival of a second team in the Baltimore/Washington market would doom both franchises to mediocrity, and he says he has the numbers to prove it.
"The Orioles are a very important franchise in Major League Baseball," Angelos said. "For years, we have been the top draw in the American League and we intend to keep it that way."
The Orioles have led the American League in attendance for much of the past decade. They finished 35,000 fans behind the Cleveland Indians in 1999, but only because they lost a date to a rainout.
That probably would not have been possible if there had been another major-league franchise playing within driving distance. The Orioles commissioned an economic impact study several years ago that determined as much as 25 percent of the club's fans come from the Washington area. Angelos said yesterday that he is having that study updated, but doesn't expect the numbers to change significantly.
The earlier study indicated that the Orioles draw significant revenue from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, an area that would be critical to the success of a Washington franchise.
"They really don't have a sufficient fan base unless they dig deeply into the Orioles fan base," Angelos said. "That doesn't help anybody. That would leave two teams that would be unable to compete at a top level.
"We draw 3.7 million fans, and that allows us to compete with the New York Yankees - and we will be competitive with them again very soon. We wouldn't have the revenue to do that and I don't believe that a [second] team would have the revenue to compete against the teams they would have to compete against."
Of course, there are other markets with more than one team, but only New York and Los Angeles - the two largest sports markets in the country - have been able to maintain healthy attendance in two ballparks at the same time. The Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants have both pondered relocation over the past 20 years, and the Chicago White Sox are struggling to draw fans even as they run away with the American League Central race this year.
"If you can make a case for putting a team in Northern Virginia, you could make just as good a case for putting a team 35 miles north of Philadelphia - there are a lot of fans in New Jersey," Angelos said. "Why is everybody so concerned with the Orioles. Why not put a team on Long Island? There are millions of fans there. If it's going to work so well, why not do it all over. Because the truth is, it doesn't work. There already are too many franchises."