Major League Baseball's confusing on-again, off-again contraction proposal may not succeed in solving the industry's financial problems, but it already has had one unintended consequence.
It has allowed baseball fans in Washington and Northern Virginia to dream again.
The uncertainty surrounding the plan, which is on hold pending legal proceedings, grievance hearings and congressional decisions, has created such an information vacuum that almost anything seems possible.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that baseball owners are considering moving the Montreal Expos to RFK Stadium for the 2002 season - that speculation based on a reported inquiry to stadium officials about the possible availability of the facility.
But the logistical considerations alone make such a plan border on the fantastic and the long-term implications of a one-year dalliance with Washington baseball make the scenario virtually impossible.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig insisted in November that relocation to Washington, D.C., was not part of the controversial contraction plan, though the apparent viability of the Washington/Northern Virginia market seemed at the time to give owners a fallback position if they were forced to continue operating the Expos franchise.
Technically, however, the original contraction schematic remains in place after the breakdown of negotiations with the Major League Baseball Players Association to postpone contraction and dismiss a union grievance challenging ownership's right to contract.
The owners must now play out the grievance in hopes that arbitrator Shaym Das rules in their favor, which would give them a huge bargaining chip in the upcoming labor negotiations.
So, it is clear that there is no way for the sport to shut down two teams and disperse the players on their major- and minor-league rosters with just two months remaining until the opening of spring training camps.
The players union needs only to block the resultant revamped schedule and inevitable dispersal draft to prevent the plan from moving forward, something it has the power to do under the still-in-force terms of the recently expired collective bargaining agreement.
There is some logic in moving the Expos to a temporary site rather than leaving them in Montreal to draw a few thousand fans a game as an obvious lame-duck franchise. It would seem to make sense because - even without the time to market the club and sell season tickets - the club would make more money playing as a novelty act at RFK Stadium than remaining in Canada.
Trouble is, the move would almost certainly create another fissure in the solidarity of baseball owners as they head into a critical collective-bargaining period with the union.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been steadfast in his opposition to any team relocating into the Northern Virginia or Washington area because of the impact it might have on an O's franchise that was prominent on Major League Baseball's list of the teams that lost big money last season.
Of course, there is always the possibility that Angelos' fellow owners will agree to re-sell the Expos after owner Jeffrey Loria completes a deal to buy the Florida Marlins, and cut Angelos in for a bigger share of the price to subsidize the O's for loss of the Washington market, but then it becomes a matter of simple mathematics.
In a perfect economic world, baseball might get $400 million from one of the Washington ownership groups for what would amount to an already assembled expansion franchise.
Subtract the $150 million necessary to buy out the Expos and the 29 remaining owners would have about $250 million to help offset their projected $519 million in losses for the 2001 season.
Now, subtract the $100 million or so that they would have to give Angelos (if he would agree to go along with the program) and the take works out to a little more than $5 million per team.
The owners probably could cut the new franchise out of the national TV revenue for a few years - because the Washington groups are so desperate to make a deal - but the overall impact on baseball's supposedly troubled finances would be negligible.
And, if that was what Major League Baseball wanted to do, the owners could have done it two days after the World Series to widespread applause instead of setting themselves up for the complex legal and political battle that they have been mired in since the contraction announcement.
Angelos would not comment on the situation, but he has given no indication that his position has changed.
The Washington/Northern Virginia area may eventually get a team, but it wouldn't make sense for baseball to move there until after the coming labor war is decided. Once a new collective-bargaining agreement is in place, Selig would be better positioned to work something out with Angelos, if the other owners still feel that it makes sense to put a second team in the area.
For that reason, it would make absolutely no sense to place the Expos at RFK on a supposedly temporary basis, because it would be virtually impossible - from a political and public relations perspective - to close the franchise or move it once it had arrived.