Playing politics: Selig talks up D.C., Angelos is mum



January 27, 2002|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig sparked a lot of excitement in Washington and Northern Virginia recently when he labeled the area "the prime candidate" for a relocated franchise. So why did his remarks generate such a muted response from the Orioles' front office?

To hear the Orioles tell it, a second major-league team in the region would do serious harm to one of the American League's soundest franchises, but club vice chairman Joe Foss countered Selig's surprising comments with a very polite recitation of the Orioles' objection to a Washington franchise.

Managing partner Peter Angelos, who would have shouted from the rooftop of the B&O warehouse if such a suggestion had been made seven or eight years ago, remained silent on a subject that has been a major concern of the Orioles throughout his ownership.

What's up with that?

Angelos' restrained response can be interpreted in a number of ways. It's possible that he has reached the conclusion that it's better to deal with the Washington baseball question with diplomacy rather than rhetoric. It's also possible that he views the arrival of a team in the region as inevitable and is playing the good soldier to improve his chances of receiving compensation for the economic impact that franchise might have on the Orioles.

It seems far more likely, however, that Angelos has come to the same conclusion as a lot of cynical Washington baseball fans - that Selig delivered his impromptu about-face on baseball in the nation's capital to get some heat off Major League Baseball at a critical juncture in the industry's economic evolution.

Selig clearly meant to say what he said, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he really meant what he said. He was under fire at the time for accepting a questionable loan from fellow owner Carl Pohlad. He was getting flak in Boston for supposedly engineering a sweetheart Red Sox sale to a group of industry insiders. There was growing clamor for his resignation and more antitrust talk in Congress.

So Selig, who apparently has learned something about Washington during his many harried appearances before various congressional committees, simply did what politicians do when the temperature starts to rise. He changed the subject and shifted the focus in Washington from "Seliggate" to the Montreal Expos' fate.

If that was the intent, then Angelos has played it exactly right. No sense stirring things up and giving the commissioner an excuse to disregard his oft-stated concern for the well-being of incumbent franchises.

There still are some owners who bear a grudge against Angelos for his refusal to field a replacement team and his vocal opposition to baseball management's hard-line collective bargaining strategy during the disastrous labor war of the early 1990s. But his relationship with Selig has improved significantly since then, enough for him to believe that Selig will not do anything to seriously disadvantage the Orioles.

Of course, it remains quite possible that a team will relocate to the region in the next few years, but even then, Angelos has a better chance of influencing the actual location of a Washington-area franchise by playing ball with his fellow owners.

Boston GM search

The new ownership in Boston has made it clear Dan Duquette will not be staying on as general manager, and the search for a replacement is well under way.

Club president Larry Lucchino reportedly is considering several candidates, including Duquette's cousin, Jim, the New York Mets' senior assistant GM.

The Boston Globe has reported that Lucchino also is considering Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane and San Diego Padres GM Kevin Towers, but both are under long-term contracts to their clubs.

Former Texas Rangers GM Doug Melvin, who worked as assistant GM of the Orioles when Lucchino was president of the team, would figure to be a candidate, but might end up running the Expos for Major League Baseball.

Expensive Japanese import

The Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to pay $11.26 million to the Yakult Swallows for the right to negotiate with Japanese pitcher Kasuhisa Ishii, but they haven't ponied up enough to persuade the talented left-hander to make the jump to the American major leagues.

Ishii's agent, Joe Urbon, scoffed at the Dodgers' three-year, $6 million initial offer, which paled next to the three-year, $14 million deal the Seattle Mariners gave to 2001 American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player Ichiro Suzuki.

Dodgers GM Dan Evans told The Los Angeles Times that he's still confident that a deal can be struck before the Feb. 8 deadline for Ishii to sign a major-league contract. Urbon continued to talk tough after the Dodgers slightly improved their offer, but his leverage is limited since the Dodgers have exclusive American negotiating rights.

Trivial pursuit

Though 39-year-old right-hander David Cone won only nine games in a comeback season with the Red Sox, speculation about his possible return to the Yankees or Mets is creating some huge headlines in New York.

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