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

Decision expected in week to 10 days

Angelos' opposition among several hurdles

September 23, 2004|By Joe Christensen and Ed Waldman | Joe Christensen and Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has become increasingly resigned to seeing the Montreal Expos play in Washington next year, based on the information he has gathered from ownership circles, Orioles officials said yesterday.

Club sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity said there was an uneasy feeling at the B&O warehouse yesterday, one day before what could be a landmark in the long, grueling relocation process.

Commissioner Bud Selig has called for the owners' Executive Council to meet today at his downtown Milwaukee office to discuss the Expos' future.

A high-ranking major league official said a final decision on the Expos - who have been run by Major League Baseball since early 2002 - will come in the next week to 10 days. Though many hurdles could prevent a team from moving to Washington even after MLB makes its decision, the picture still looks ominous for the Orioles.

"We're waiting on what happens, but it will definitely impact what we do," Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said. "We believe that there will be a 30 percent loss of revenues [if the Expos move to Washington], whether it's TV, attendance and all those factors."

The relocation subcommittee, led by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and MLB chief operating officer Bob DuPuy, could make its formal recommendation to the Executive Council today, and all signs seem to be pointing to D.C.

But in many respects, this seems like a formality. One top Orioles official said yesterday: "It seems Bud has his votes."

Selig rarely makes a decision without complete ownership support, and he typically uses his Executive Council as the instrument to hash out those decisions before putting the measure to a vote of the 29 owners. It will take three-fourths support (22 votes) to move the Expos.

Angelos, who declined to comment for this article and has never formally addressed the relocation committee, could be asked to make his case to the eight-member Executive Council today. The other members are Reinsdorf, the Colorado Rockies' Jerry McMorris, San Francisco Giants' Peter Magowan, Houston Astros' Drayton McLane, Seattle Mariners' John Ellis, Kansas City Royals' David Glass and New York Mets' Fred Wilpon.

Selig and DuPuy are also expected to be in the room today.

Angelos and Selig have forged a close relationship in recent years, and at the All-Star Game in Houston, Selig reportedly assured Angelos he would not do anything to hurt the Orioles.

This helped fuel Angelos' optimism as the relocation committee considered Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; Monterrey, Mexico; and Norfolk, Va. Technically, those areas have never been eliminated, but the committee clearly has been focused on the D.C. region since the owners' quarterly meeting in Philadelphia in early August.

Northern Virginia and D.C. were viewed as the two finalists, and the D.C. bid took center stage last week, as Reinsdorf and MLB vice president Tom Ostertag met with the Northern Virginia group for 2 1/2 hours one day and the D.C. group for 11 hours the next day.

On Tuesday, the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission told the D.C. Council it had picked a site in Southeast Washington, on the Anacostia waterfront near South Capitol Street.

The cost would be $440 million, which includes $13 million to renovate RFK Stadium, the site 35 miles from Camden Yards where the team would play for three years while the new stadium was being built.

A source with knowledge of the negotiations between the D.C. bid and MLB said baseball likes the site for two reasons: It is farther from Baltimore than any of the other possible District sites, and officials see it as akin to Petco Park in San Diego, which opened this season to great fanfare.

"It's the best site, because it creates the best opportunity for urban renewal," the source said. "It is an area of town that is underdeveloped. It is close to the river, so it fits in to both the Anacostia waterfront initiative and would create an anchor for urban renewal and economic development in an area where it would not happen without a stimulus like a stadium."

Still, even if MLB approves the Expos' move to Washington, there would still be at least three potential hurdles:

The Orioles could sue.

Based on Angelos' legal background, MLB officials have been anticipating this scenario. As one MLB source said yesterday, today's Executive Council meeting could be just another step in the long process.

To ward off a lawsuit, the owners might try to appease Angelos with a settlement, but he has made it known he's not interested in taking their money and jeopardizing the Orioles' long-term financial health.

D.C.'s ballpark financing plan could hit a snag.

Last week, three members of the D.C. Council who support raising taxes to build a stadium lost primary election battles to opponents who are against such a plan. Former Mayor Marion Barry, Kwame Brown and Vincent Gray are expected to breeze through the general election Nov. 2 and take office in January.

Jack Evans, chairman of the D.C. Council's finance committee, has said in published reports that a bill authorizing the District's financing package must be introduced in the next two to three weeks for it to have enough time to go through the legislative process and be voted on by the outgoing council members.

Another legal matter could slow the Expos' move.

The ex-partners of former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria have filed a federal lawsuit in Miami claiming Loria conspired with MLB to dilute their share of the team from 76 percent to less than 7 percent. The suit also claims that Loria, now the Florida Marlins' owner, never intended to keep the team in Montreal after he bought it in late 1999.

DuPuy has said many times that baseball believes the lawsuit won't be an impediment to moving the Expos, but time will tell.

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