Now, Expos are awaiting fine touch of Selig & Co.

October 10, 2002|By Laura Vecsey

MINNEAPOLIS - Now that he has witnessed the Minnesota Twins' October uprising in person, perhaps the commissioner of baseball can resolve the fate of that other contraction list survivor.

What about this deal:

To save the Expos, who are foundering in Montreal and whose geographic fate is still unknown, Bud Selig promises the Orioles they can have outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and power pitcher Bartolo Colon. In exchange, owner Peter Angelos gives his blessing to the Expos' move to Washington.

Also, baseball has to pony up a onetime cash payment of $50 million to Angelos. The Orioles need a little mad money to buy themselves a new farm system.

Ownership shenanigans. They are as much a part of baseball as the squeeze play. So when Selig made a brave appearance at the American League Championship Series - risking life and limb in a city where he's as welcome as a minus-80-degree wind-chill factor - it was with a grain of salt that we ingested his "It's Over, It's Time To Move On" sermon in the Metrodome.

"I understand whether it was contraction or revenue sharing, there was a lot of anger," Selig said. "We went through a lot of hell. It's over. ... There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears. A lot of headaches. But the economic landscape has changed."

It's over, Mr. Commissioner? Tell that to Angelos, or anyone else within 100 yards of Camden Yards, where the Expos might find a richly populated new home to call their own.

Over Angelos' serious objections, of course. Why should the Orioles suffer so the Expos can live?

You see, it's not exactly all a bed of roses in baseball, just because the "You Can't Contract Me" Twins are leading the giddy proceedings of this decidedly underdog, feel-good postseason.

Please don't misunderstand. It's quite infectious to watch a city and a franchise back-slap and wink its way through October. The Twins beat the rap. They live. And they'll live in Minnesota, where legislation passed in May and signed by outgoing Gov. Jesse Ventura has paved the way for a new stadium, one day.

Minnesota may rue the day billionaire owner Carl Pohlad purchased its Twins. It may absolutely revile the idea of coughing up tax dollars for a new outdoor stadium that will benefit Pohlad. The depression-era banker wanted to trade the Twins, their 40-year history and two World Series championships for $150 million of Selig's quick-fix money.

However, the way this team has its pitching rotation set against the Anaheim Angels, it's quite conceivable that the Twins could be the first club to go from death row to a World Series in 11 crazy months. That alone should speed up the stadium battle that has hog-tied this cash-strapped organization for years.

While the Twins dream that Selig will have to hand them the World Series championship trophy in their champagne-soaked Metrodome clubhouse, the owner of the Orioles must sit and stew.

Or, more likely - and better suited to his brilliantly litigious personality - Angelos must devise a strategy to thwart baseball's obviously looming intent to put a team back in the nation's capital.

If there is one lawyer in the world who could cook up a legal quagmire in which baseball would drown, it is Angelos. Don't let his bargaining table work with baseball during the labor negotiations fool you. If he must make a case against his fellow owners, he will draw up legal arguments capable of scaring Selig silly.

This is supposed to be the October in which we all forget about contraction. Or laugh at it, the way Minnesotans did at coffee shops and water coolers yesterday. They loved the idea that Selig came to town and had to suck it up. He was only the messenger, he said. Contracting the Twins wasn't only his idea. Deep down, Minnesotans know it was not all on Selig. Pohlad was the other evil Twin in this dirty deal.

Now, though, in this heady little postseason month of October, contraction is over. The Twins' future is looking greatly improved. For the Expos and baseball, the messy nightmare lives on.

Under the terms of the new labor agreement, the Expos can't be contracted. That hardly means their future is on any predictable track. It seems certain the Expos can't stay in Montreal, which means baseball must deliver another November edict on the Expos' latest fate.

The Washington Baseball Club and the Virginia Baseball Club remain eager for word on baseball's plans. Both parties, as well as the Expos' front office, are pressing baseball for a determination.

Moving the Expos to San Juan or Portland or Charlotte or Salt Lake City for a year, as has been floated, seems like a ploy. Last January, Selig said D.C. was the prime target for a major-league team. It's like the NFL drooling to be back in Los Angeles. Big markets always top the list.

That's why baseball is likely trying to line up all its D.C. ducks, like getting RFK Stadium on the docket for a baseball upgrade; fielding offers from potential ownership groups; getting a new stadium deal on the books.

Stay tuned for future ownership shenanigans. Selig's next public appearance should be even more interesting than the one he put in here.

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