D.C. rejoins big leagues as Expos begin packing

National pastime to resume in nation's capital for 2005 season

'It's a great day for Washington,' mayor exults

September 30, 2004|By Jon Morgan, Jeff Barker and Ed Waldman | Jon Morgan, Jeff Barker and Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Sporting the bright red caps of their departed Senators, city leaders announced yesterday that the national pastime would return to the nation's capital after an absence of 33 seasons when Major League Baseball moves the Montreal Expos here in time for Opening Day 2005.

"It's a great day for Washington," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams, wearing a red cap styled after those once worn by the Washington Senators.

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig was equally enthusiastic, describing Washington - the country's biggest city without a baseball team - as the best place to revive the troubled Expos franchise.

"It's a great area, and there will be a lot of excitement for us not only next year but also for many years to come," Selig said in a conference call with reporters.

He promised to "aggressively recommend" the city as the next home of the Expos at a November meeting of team owners. The move must be approved by three-quarters of the clubs, but the endorsement by Selig, a consensus leader, signaled that approval was a foregone conclusion.

Left incomplete was an agreement being negotiated with Orioles owner Peter Angelos to shield the club against a loss of fans or revenues from having to share the lucrative Washington-Baltimore market of nearly 8 million residents. Those talks are scheduled to resume today in Angelos' Baltimore law office.

"The effort is a continuing one," he said. "We're not finished. It is incomplete at this moment."

One baseball source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Selig believed he and Angelos were close enough to a deal that the commissioner felt he could proceed with the announcement. He notified Angelos of the decision by phone yesterday before it was announced.

Williams, the Washington mayor, was seated at a conference table in his office a little after 4 p.m. when he took the call from Selig by speaker phone with the news of baseball's long-awaited decision.

On the line with Selig were Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and MLB Vice President John McHale, both members of the committee Selig appointed more than two years ago to find the Expos a new home.

An hour later, Williams spoke at a pep rally at the City Museum. Not known for displays of emotion - he often jokingly refers to his "effervescent personality" - the bow-tied mayor pumped his cap in the air when introduced to the overflow crowd of several hundred people by Charlie Brotman, the longtime Washington Senators public address announcer.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Brotman introduced U.S. presidents to the crowd on opening days. The president would traditionally throw out the first pitch to begin the season.

"In about seven months, the president of the United States - whoever he may be - will continue that tradition at RFK Stadium, tossing out the first ball," Brotman told the crowd. "Happy days are here again. Let's play ball!"

Several members of the old Senators ballclub were in attendance. At the end of the rally, Brotman led a chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

The new team doesn't have a name yet. Williams said he opposes using "Senators" again because Washington "has no senators." The district has only one nonvoting delegate representing it in Congress, a sore point for many in Washington, where license tags bear the protest line "Taxation without representation."

Williams wants the team to be called the "Grays" in honor of the Negro leagues' Homestead Grays, who played in the city. The naming won't be done until an ownership group is selected by baseball, probably through a bidding process.

Experts say the franchise will likely sell for in excess of $300 million, more than making back the approximately $170 million that the 29 other clubs have spent to buy and operate the money-losing team.

Critics of the Washington stadium deal have said the city needs to address social services first. A woman in the crowd at the City Museum yelled at the assembled elected officials that now is not the time to construct a $400 million stadium because "schools are falling apart!"

But Williams said education funding would not suffer. "Not one dime for this ballpark is coming from D.C. residents," he said.

Williams thanked Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, "who took a lot of fire for supporting us" in the effort to lure baseball to Washington

O'Malley, whose failure to condemn the idea of a competing team in Washington angered Angelos, told reporters in Baltimore, "I don't begrudge any city anywhere in America for getting their own team."

"We didn't like it when people were telling us we couldn't have the Ravens. We wouldn't like it if people told us we couldn't have the Orioles," O'Malley said.

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