Numbers pitched by D.C. boosters aren't adding up

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

A Look Inside

May 30, 2004|By PETER SCHMUCK

The debate over the relocation of the Montreal Expos has boiled down to one basic point of disagreement between the Orioles and the potential ownership groups that want to buy the team and put it in Washington or Northern Virginia: The proximity of the Washington Expos - or whatever the transplanted team would be called - will either hurt the Orioles in a significant economic way, or it won't.

That's the way the issue has been articulated by baseball commissioner Bud Selig, and that's the way it has been cast in both cities as Major League Baseball gets ready to make an announcement on the future of the Expos later this summer.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos commissioned a study in the 1990s that supported his contention that a major portion of his team's revenue comes from the nation's capital and its surrounding suburbs.

The Washington and Northern Virginia groups have their own studies to demonstrate that the effect would be much more subtle and that the Orioles would do just fine without the modest economic input of the Washington area.

If that's true, however, isn't it the best argument of all against putting a second team in the region? The contention that only a relatively small number of Washington and Virginia baseball fans are willing to drive 50 miles to see the Orioles - a cornerstone American League franchise that plays in one of the most popular, fan-friendly ballparks in the country - might be the most tangible indicator of the level of true, sustainable baseball interest in that area.

No doubt, the arrival of the Expos would create an initial buzz and probably appeal to the hard-core baseball fans who have felt disenfranchised by the Orioles, but Major League Baseball needs to know that the team won't again become a financial burden on the rest of the sport.

The Expos would need to draw about 2 1/2 million fans a year to be successful, yet D.C. baseball advocates contend that only a small fraction of that number is willing to put out any effort to see the team that's already in the region.

That ought to tell you something.

Banged-up bruins

The Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros will open the most compelling series of the coming week tomorrow at Wrigley Field ... if the Cubs can still field a team by then.

Reliever Todd Wellemeyer just became the ninth Cubs player currently on the disabled list, joining Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Sammy Sosa, Mark Grudzielanek, Alex Gonzalez, Tom Goodwin, Kent Mercker and Ryan Dempster. That's the most Cubs on the DL at the same time since anyone thought to start keeping track in 1970.

"Life's a test," said manager Dusty Baker. "I was taught in church that the Lord wouldn't put more on you than you can handle. But it's getting heavy."

Big loss

The Arizona Diamondbacks probably won't get Richie Sexson back this year, though they have not entirely given up hope that his torn labrum can be rehabilitated without extensive surgery. He's expected to get a second opinion from orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews this week.

The most likely scenario has him undergoing arthroscopic surgery and missing at least four months, but the Diamondbacks claim that they still intend to sign him to a long-term contract before he becomes eligible for free agency in November.

Burger run

The Anaheim Angels found themselves in an uncomfortable situation last Sunday night, when their flight to Hamilton, Ontario, had to be diverted to Detroit at 2 a.m., leaving the tired and hungry traveling party to kill five hours on the tarmac.

Traveling secretary Tom Taylor came to the rescue, leaving the plane and taking a cab to the nearest 24-hour White Castle burger joint, where he bought 230 of the tiny hamburgers and the usual accompaniments to feed the huddled masses.

That turned out to be the highlight of the trip. The Angels got to Toronto at about 7 in the morning and were swept in a three-game series at SkyDome.

Perfect pitcher

While a lot of attention has been directed at Roger Clemens and his fantastic start this season, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Paul Wilson has quietly rolled up a 7-0 record.

"He's been outstanding," Reds manager Dave Miley said. "Every start that he goes out there, we feel like he's going to take you late in the game and give you a chance to win. That's huge."

Wilson, who will skip his start today in Montreal because of a groin strain, can become the first Reds pitcher to start the season 8-0 since Mike LaCoss in 1979. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that a win today would equal Wilson's career high for a full season (2001 and 2003).

Stare-down

Reds superstar Ken Griffey raised some eyebrows in the Florida Marlins' dugout when he allegedly glared at Florida manager Jack McKeon during his home run trot Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park. The Fish thought he was showing up McKeon for intentionally walking Sean Casey before Griffey hit a game-winning three-run homer.

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