Expos a no-win situation

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

May 23, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

The closer Major League Baseball gets to making a decision on the relocation of the Montreal Expos, the more you have to wonder if the owners had the right idea when they threatened to contract the team in 2001.

There is no perfect option for the Expos, who can't survive in Montreal and don't appear to be a can't-miss proposition in any of the prospective cities that have shown an interest in them.

The relocation committee is expected to make a final report to commissioner Bud Selig in the next few weeks, and Selig claims that he'll put the best choice to a vote of the full ownership sometime this summer, but the ownership meeting that took place Wednesday and Thursday in New York didn't exactly clarify the situation.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has not stepped back an inch from his opposition to a team in Washington or Northern Virginia, and Selig seems to be caught in the middle of a no-win tug-of-war between the most logical site for the Expos and the equally logical arguments against placing them so close to the Orioles.

Selig articulated that conundrum after the two-day meeting, which left the situation pretty much where it has been for several years. The owners have more alternatives now, but it's going to be very hard -- both politically and economically-- to pass up the Washington/Northern Virginia area in favor of a lesser market.

If the past is any indication, it wouldn't be a complete surprise if Selig played for more time, but MLB president and chief operating officer Bob DuPuy insists that the plan is to plant the Expos permanently in a new city for next season.

The owners obviously are tired of subsidizing the franchise and want it sold to recoup the money they have spent to keep it afloat. They also must be weary of the process, which has dragged on much too long, but the consequences of a poor decision might be worse than making no decision at all.

The owners need only to look as far as Tampa Bay to see what can happen if they choose unwisely.

Staying put

Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo wasted no time making sure that his perfect pitcher knows that he's wanted in Phoenix, dismissing early speculation that Randy Johnson might be dealt to the New York Yankees at midseason.

"I have no intention of trading Randy Johnson," Colangelo said. "I certainly hope he has no interest of going anywhere."

That speculation heated up when Johnson said recently that fans might be better off going to the movies than coming to Bank One Ballpark to watch the struggling D'backs, but he has been all smiles since taking his frustrations out on the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.

Next stop

The Big Unit faces the next big thing when he pitches against 2003 Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis and the Florida Marlins at Pro Player Stadium today.

Johnson will carry a string of 33 straight outs -- including the last six outs of a start against the New York Mets on May 13 -- into the game against the defending World Series champions.

The record for consecutive outs without a runner reaching base in any way is 41, set by San Francisco Giants pitcher Jim Barr in 1972.

Past absurdity

Since Barr's name popped up unexpectedly this week, this is as good a time as any to induct him into the Theater of the Absurd Hall of Fame.

Barr was a member of the California Angels team that won the American League West in 1979, but he missed the postseason after injuring his pitching hand during the post-clincher celebration.

Barr suffered the season-ending injury when he tried to punch through the middle of a toilet seat that a fan had adorned with a paper sign. Unfortunately, there was solid wood behind the poster, and he was unavailable to pitch against the Orioles in the 1979 AL Championship Series.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Willis

When Willis is good, he's very good, and when he's bad, he's very bad. Just look at the statistical split between his successful starts and his unsuccessful ones.

The 22-year-old left-hander has made 35 starts since he was brought up to the big leagues last May, and the Marlins have won 23 of them. Willis has a 1.73 ERA in those games, but his ERA in the 12 starts that the club has lost is 8.28.

"You don't know which guy is going to show up," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said.

Fickle finger

Former Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson broke a string of seven winless starts with a victory last Sunday for the Detroit Tigers, but a chronic blister on his pitching hand could turn this into another lost season.

The Tigers are hoping that Johnson can pitch through it, but he clearly has let it affect his performance.

"Jason is very average without his two-seam fastball, which has good movement, and he wasn't throwing it," said Tigers pitching coach Bob Cluck. "With it, he's a good pitcher. We told him, `Just go out there, pretend the blister isn't there, and whatever happens, happens.' "

Not-so-firm hand

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Jim Tracy has found a novel way of dealing with Milton Bradley's erratic behavior.

Praise it.

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