Orioles see Expos' move to D.C. as likely

For sore O's, site of ballpark puts them in a very bad spot


September 23, 2004|By David Steele

HERE'S WHAT you need to know about where Washington has decided to put its proposed ballpark, and why Peter Angelos can't possibly be happy about it:

If they build it, they will come.

If D.C. builds it along the Anacostia waterfront in a Southeast Washington area starving for development, baseball will come to it. There will be a Washington Expos, or Senators, or Grays, or Not-Orioles, or some tenant under some name. They'll be there. Bud Selig and Co. will be so on board with this plan, they might as well walk into today's owners meeting with Metro farecards in hand.

What major league would be crazy enough to turn its back on what D.C. is handing it?

And what owner of a team less than an hour up the road has no choice but to throw everything he can at the plan to stop it?

That's what Angelos has to do, if he's that hell-bent on protecting his "territory," loosely defined as it is - which is a topic for another day. If his worst nightmare is baseball near that other Beltway, then he ain't sleeping tonight.

He might have slept better had Washington made a less-attractive decision. There were less attractive decisions to be made, and few city governments are as capable of unattractive decisions, which is saying a lot. This time, it appears Washington officials made a decision that works for them. It works exceedingly well for baseball, which was looking for reasons to go to D.C. rather than to the Northern Virginia suburbs.

Washington has handed baseball every reason it could have wanted lately. Fully funding the project pretty much took it to the brink, but Tuesday's choice of a site might have locked it up.

On the surface, no, it doesn't look that way, especially if you're taking a tape measure to all the proposed sites and running them up to Camden Yards. Anacostia is farther to the south of Baltimore than were the others. At the moment, it doesn't have any better highway or subway access than the others.

Doesn't matter. It's just better. Those who grew up in Washington and know that area understand that without thinking about it. You don't even have to be much of a baseball enthusiast to see how much better off Anacostia will be, just from the fact that the city is paying serious attention to it.

Few factors kill a neighborhood or region faster and more decisively than neglect. For decades after Martin Luther King's assassination, there were still rubble-strewn lots, burned-out hulls of buildings and other remnants of the riots scattered all over Southeast. From here, it's still a miracle the Metro has actually been extended there. This is almost apocalyptic.

But don't take anyone else's word on that except for Bud's and his cohorts'. They like it. End of discussion. End of debate over Northern Virginia's flagging campaign, and the multiple projects already shoehorned into New York Avenue, and the logic and logistics of the past-its-time RFK Stadium site.

Looking at it at that level, it makes sense for everybody.

Except, of course, the Orioles.

Nothing would have been better for them than a recommendation of a bad site that wouldn't appeal to baseball. That happens, and you get another long look on the other side of the Potomac. Or an even longer debate, within baseball and Washington, about how to bring the two together. Or (the most probable) more lengthy delays in the decision, which would mean another year of los Expos de Puerto Rico.

Or, worst of all, another year of 28 ticked-off owners lugging around their unwanted foster child. (That would exclude Angelos, who has to prefer that dilemma to the one he has been facing.)

Now, the Orioles can hardly be pacified by the fact that the average fan will have to get off the highway a few exits farther away, or ride the Green Line a few extra stops. The fans who want to get there will get there. And if the plan reaches its ambitions, the fans will stay, and keep coming.

Baseball has chosen where it's going to plant its feet. Angelos might not be able to budge them. More likely, it will be the other way around.

The powers that be have to be really careful how they manage this. For one thing, we're still talking D.C. city politics, and the just-concluded primary season featured plenty of candidates running against any ballpark plan. Never discount that. Oakland's expensive luring-back of the Raiders nine years ago, and the repercussions, cost several elected officials their jobs.

Speaking of the Oakland area, a pair of baseball owners will be observing all of this carefully - Steve Schott of the Oakland A's, who's still nosing around the demographically desirable San Jose, Calif., region for a new ballpark, and Peter Magowan, whose Giants make a territorial claim to that area that should sound familiar.

But with what's happening now, it appears that it's a matter of appeasing the O's, rather than capitulating to them.

Which means that their days of providing fourth-place finishes, bloated payrolls and biennial managerial rotations free of nearby competition are numbered.

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