Perhaps the good baseball fans of Washington are waiting for Yogi Berra to weigh in on their chances of fielding a major-league team in the foreseeable future.
If the quotable New York Yankees great were to deliver an observation on the decision by baseball owners to plant the Montreal Expos in Puerto Rico for a significant chunk of their "home" schedule next season, it might go something like this:
"They can't put a team in Washington. Nobody goes to big-league baseball games there."
That logic is not nearly as tortured as the rationale for sending the Expos on the road for an extra 22 games to play in a small ballpark in San Juan. Certainly it will generate excitement in an area that has sent many talented players to the major leagues, but it doesn't alter the fact that the Expos need a new permanent home and that baseball seems reluctant to make any permanent decision regarding the placement of a team in the nation's capital.
Does that mean it's time for Washington to take the hint?
Maybe. The easiest course of action for baseball commissioner Bud Selig would be to put the team up for auction and sell it to the highest bidder, and the highest bidder almost certainly would be one of the groups poised to bring baseball back to Washington. Since that seems so obvious, the fact that it hasn't already happened ought to send a shiver through Bill Collins and Fred Malek.
Major League Baseball has gone to such great lengths to sidestep the District - beginning with the ill-fated contraction plan and now this - that there is room to wonder if the decision to move the Expos somewhere else already has been made.
The Orioles remain adamantly opposed to a second team in the region, and Selig has said on several occasions that he is very protective of the economic health of existing franchises. He also has said that Washington is the "prime candidate" for relocation, but if he really believed that to be true, it seems unlikely that he would go to such lengths to keep the Expos in limbo for another year.
The Washington ownership groups remain publicly optimistic about 2004 because there does not appear to be another market with the organization, money and stadium plan to compete with the Washington/Northern Virginia region. Even if baseball buys time for more potential buyers to come forward, it seems highly unlikely anyone else will be able to put together a comparable deal in that time frame.
In that case, the delay might even be construed to favor the District. Selig has formed a relocation committee to examine the situation and make a recommendation by early July, which could be the final step in a long process to prove to everyone - including Orioles owner Peter Angelos - that Washington is the only reasonable option.
It seems just as likely, however, that the owners have bought into Angelos' argument that the arrival of a second team in the region will dilute revenues for both franchises and doom the area to dual small-market status.
Bored of the rings
It is becoming increasingly apparent that baseball will not survive the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Olympic officials seem inclined to discontinue the baseball tournament unless Major League Baseball agrees to join the NBA and NHL and allow its top stars to compete in the Summer Games.
That's not going to happen, of course. The NHL has agreed to interrupt its regular season to accommodate the Olympics, but the promotional value of sending the league's stars to several national teams far outweighs the negative impact of disrupting the schedule. The integrity of baseball's regular season would be compromised much more by a lengthy break late in the summer, and the promotional benefit to the industry would be questionable.
Olympic baseball would get more air time if Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens were on the U.S. team, but it seems highly unlikely that the benefit of the added international exposure would come close to offsetting the revenue loss that Major League Baseball would incur with a two-week interruption in the regular-season schedule.
"We're trying to do everything we can to keep baseball in the Olympics, but having our best players compete poses monumental problems," MLB spokesman Rich Levin said Thursday. "It would cause shutting down the game for a few weeks, and we wouldn't do that."
There has been talk of the Olympic federation agreeing to reduce the length of the tournament from 12 days to five days to improve the chances of Major League Baseball allowing its stars to compete, but that wouldn't significantly change the dynamics of the decision. Practice and travel time still would require at least a 10-day break.
Though there has been talk of dropping baseball for the 2004 Games in Greece, the sport probably is safe through 2008, which should be a relief for Angelos.