CHICAGO - Washington has waited 33 years for the return of Major League Baseball, so what's another couple of weeks? Baseball's owners were expected to officially approve the Montreal Expos' move yesterday at their quarterly meeting, but they postponed the vote to sort through more logistics.
Still, even after a two-hour afternoon meeting at the O'Hare Hilton, where much of the discussion centered on the Expos' move, commissioner Bud Selig and MLB president Bob DuPuy expressed no doubt that the measure will pass.
"It is a slam-dunk," DuPuy said. "It will get resolved. We just didn't vote today."
The owners have an agreement with Washington to put the Expos' proposed move to a vote by Dec. 6, and Selig indicated the vote will likely come by conference call shortly after Thanksgiving.
Three-quarters of the owners must vote in favor of the move for it to pass, and little opposition is expected.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos has openly opposed the move, and after the other owners left the hotel yesterday, he spent an additional two hours meeting with MLB officials before departing without comment.
Orioles president Joe Foss and general counsel Russell Smouse accompanied Angelos on the trip. MLB and Angelos have been negotiating a settlement that would protect the Orioles financially with the Expos moving about 40 miles down the road into a temporary home at RFK Stadium.
The negotiations were active immediately after the relocation announcement but have been less so in recent weeks.
Selig said he would like to reach an agreement with Angelos before the owners' vote is taken but said that wasn't the reason for yesterday's delay.
"There were a lot of other issues," Selig said, adding most of them were legal matters. "But my feelings haven't changed on that one bit. I have a great feeling of respect and affection for Peter, and I want it to be done fairly."
The D.C. Council has postponed its vote on Mayor Anthony A. Williams' ballpark-financing plan until Nov. 30. That plan calls for a ballpark to be built along the Anacostia waterfront at a cost to the city of between $440 million and $584 million.
An agreement signed with Major League Baseball on Sept. 29 by the mayor gives the District until Dec. 31 to approve legislative action on a measure "to enable the construction, funding and operation" of the stadium. If that deadline is missed, then the team "may ... terminate this agreement," the document says.
The council must let 13 days pass after its initial vote and then take a second vote to officially pass the measure. But a second council vote could come on Dec. 14, leaving more than two weeks of wiggle room.
Regardless of why the owners delayed their vote, D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp suggested she wouldn't be intimidated.
On Nov. 9, Cropp blocked a vote on a publicly funded stadium financing deal, saying the city owed it to taxpayers to further study private financing.
"I continue to want baseball in D.C., but not at any cost," Cropp said in a prepared statement yesterday. "That is why I am looking for ways to reduce the amount of public dollars used to build the stadium. As I continue to work in the best interest of the citizens and businesses of the District in a deliberate and rational way, I will not be pressured to act otherwise."
Cropp said there is ample time for the District to explore various financing options and still meet baseball's deadline.
Under the mayor's plan, the stadium would be financed largely through a combination of a gross receipts tax on large businesses and in-stadium taxes on concessions, tickets and merchandise.
Williams was not worried yesterday that baseball did not rubber-stamp its approval, said spokesman Chris Bender.
"We feel confident we have the votes [in council]. We're not that concerned about it," Bender said.
Councilman Jim Mendelson, an opponent of the plan, agreed the mayor had the seven votes he needed.
"My sense is there is going to be a majority vote, and it will basically support the deal negotiated with Major League Baseball," Mendelson said. "But there are going to be some wrinkles. I don't know if the wrinkles will jeopardize anything."
Selig and DuPuy said yesterday's delay had nothing to do with the council.
"We believe the mayor has the votes to pass [his proposal], and we expect that to happen," DuPuy said.
In other, related matters:
Selig said he thinks MLB can sell the Expos by Opening Day. "There's no reason not to," he said.
The team is expected to be renamed the Washington Nationals next week. "I was raised with the name Washington Senators," Selig said, "but I guess there are people there who don't like that name, so we'll see what someone else thinks. ... The commissioner has a lot of power, but he doesn't always get his way."
Christensen reported from Chicago and Barker from Washington.