D.C. area is now optimistic on getting a relocated team

Region hopeful with plans to contract gone for now

August 31, 2002|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

News that baseball has abandoned plans to shut down any franchises for the next four years raised the hopes of Washington-area boosters who believe it enhances the prospect of a troubled team relocating to the region.

"We're hopeful that this means that relocation will be more closely looked at," said Winston Lord, executive director of the Washington Baseball Club.

Baseball team owners voted last year to eliminate two teams. The players union opposed the plan and took the matter to arbitration. A ruling has been on hold.

The two sides settled the case yesterday as part of the tentative collective bargaining agreement. The owners agreed not to eliminate any franchises during the term of the contract, which expires in December 2006. In exchange, the players conceded the right of management to cut two teams beginning with the 2007 season, though particulars of a dispersal draft and other matters would need to be negotiated.

Team owners have to notify the union by July 1, 2006, if they intend to eliminate teams - though they don't have to identify the clubs to be axed.

"This is a great day for Virginia baseball," said Brian Hannigan, spokesman for the Virginia Baseball Authority, which is trying to lure a team to Northern Virginia.

"We were always hoping that contraction would not take place, and now it will be delayed or effectively canceled," Hannigan said. "It's possible that relocation could occur as early as next season."

The Virginia and Washington groups have separate investors and efforts under way to secure funds to build a stadium in their jurisdictions. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has said that relocations would be discussed after a labor agreement was reached and that the Washington area was a prime candidate.

Yesterday, Major League Baseball chief operating officer Robert DuPuy said: "I am not answering any questions on relocation."

Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who relies on the Washington market for many of the team's fans and opposes a rival club there, said yesterday that the proposed new collective bargaining agreement would not affect a team moving to Washington.

"That has nothing to do with this agreement," said Angelos, who served on the owners' bargaining committee.

The team most often viewed as a relocation candidate is the Montreal Expos. The Minnesota Twins have also been mentioned by baseball officials as a candidate for elimination.

Sports consultant and former CBS Sports president Neil Pilson predicted a "renewed discussion" of team relocation as a result of the new labor contract.

"I think Washington is the next logical place for baseball to move, and I think there is a good possibility the Expos could end up there or in Northern Virginia," Pilson said.

Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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