Baseball for D.C. appears imminent

Orioles seek guarantees in return for Expos' move

Washington could hear today

September 29, 2004|By Ed Waldman and Jon Morgan | Ed Waldman and Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

As Major League Baseball appeared on the brink of returning to the nation's capital, negotiations yesterday between Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos and the sport's president resulted in significant progress on protecting the club from a new rival 40 miles to the south.

An announcement by baseball officials of their intention to relocate the Montreal Expos to Washington could come as early as today, said District of Columbia Councilman Phil Mendelson, who spoke yesterday with Mark Touhey, chairman of the Washington Sports & Entertainment Commission.

"Mark was sounding like he expects the announcement" today that baseball would be coming to Washington, Mendelson said.

Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, the point man for the effort to find a new home for the Expos, met yesterday with Angelos and advisers at the owner's downtown law office.

"We exchanged various ideas. It was a civil and constructive discussion. I intend to take those ideas back to the commissioner. And I'll be back in touch with Mr. Angelos," DuPuy said.

Angelos said, "Nothing is completed. It's still a work in progress."

But the broad outlines of a potential deal did emerge. It would include guarantees on the Orioles' revenues, future resale value and the creation of a regional sports network that would broadcast both teams' games but funnel most of the revenue to the Orioles for an undetermined number of years.

The District of Columbia has offered to build a publicly financed, $400 million stadium on the Anacostia River waterfront.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams told WUSA-TV last night: "Knock on plywood, I think we're in a position where we can have a celebration tomorrow, I hope."

Jim Hannan, a pitcher for the Washington Senators from 1962 to 1970, said he received an invitation by telephone yesterday from the city for a celebratory baseball party at 5 p.m. today at the City Museum of Washington.

"I feel like I'm coming off the disabled list after 33 years," said Hannan, who is now a stockbroker.

The Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season. The 33rd anniversary of their last game in Washington is tomorrow.

Major League Baseball spokesman Patrick Courtney said he was unaware of any scheduled announcement on the Expos.

In the meeting with Angelos yesterday, DuPuy continued an effort to address the concerns of the Orioles' financial well-being with a team apparently about to be placed in close proximity.

"The issues that were raised are being approached very responsibly by Major League Baseball," Angelos said. "I expect there to be additional meetings later this week."

DuPuy said, "We discussed conceptually" Angelos' public concerns "with regard to the protection of the community."

Angelos told The Sun on Monday that he would consider dropping his opposition to a team in Washington if a means could be found to protect the Orioles' finances, as well as the state's investment in the publicly financed Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Maryland Stadium Authority's executive director, Alison L. Asti, who did not attend the talks yesterday, said she was glad to hear Angelos and DuPuy acknowledge the public's stake in the outcome of the negotiations. Because the team pays rent based on a percentage of its revenues, the stadium authority could also suffer from any financial harm the Orioles might incur if forced to share the Washington-Baltimore market.

"We appreciate that it appears that our interests are being considered," Asti said.

Angelos said he has been in touch with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "I want to protect the city and its well-being. I want to protect the state's investment. And, if we do that, we'll protect the Orioles franchise," he said.

Angelos has long opposed a ballclub in Washington, saying it would eat into his fan base and endanger his franchise. But Monday's statements represented the first time he has indicated publicly that he might be persuaded otherwise.

Attending yesterday's meeting, which began about 12:30 p.m., were Angelos, his attorney Alan Rifkin, as well as Orioles Vice Chairman Joe Foss. Also seen leaving the meeting with DuPuy was Washington attorney William H. Schweitzer, who represents Major League Baseball.

Baseball is eager to strike a deal with Angelos that would eliminate his opposition -- legal and otherwise -- to a move of the Expos to Washington. The Expos were bought by the sport's other teams in 2002 as a stop-gap measure to keep the foundering club afloat.

The Expos' potential relocation to Washington faces a number of deadlines and hurdles. An agreement with baseball would have to be approved by the district council that, due to its legislative calendar, would like to have the measure introduced before Friday, Gang said.

Work needs to begin soon on renovations of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, where a renamed Expos team would play beginning next season while a new ballpark is constructed.

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