Owners approve Expos' relocation to Washington

Angelos dissents

Orioles owner is lone objector

financial protections unresolved

December 04, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

With the Orioles' Peter Angelos casting the only dissenting vote, Major League Baseball owners yesterday conditionally approved the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington.

Despite negotiations that have gone on for more than two months, Angelos and MLB have not come to an agreement over how his franchise would be financially protected from the effects of sharing the market with the newly renamed Washington Nationals - raising the prospects of a legal fight.

"The Orioles' view of the Expos' relocation to the District of Columbia and the Orioles' concerns over the dramatic adverse impact of that relocation on our team, the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore have been acknowledged by Commissioner [Bud] Selig, President [Bob] DuPuy and other officials of Major League Baseball," H. Russell Smouse, the team's general counsel, said in a statement.

"Major League Baseball said they would devise a plan to address our issues and those of the Maryland Stadium Authority. The Orioles and the Stadium Authority have relied on those representations. Notwithstanding those assurances by Major League Baseball, we remain without a resolution. Nevertheless our discussions with Major League Baseball are ongoing."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said Tuesday that Angelos was prepared to sue MLB, and Angelos said Thursday he was "certainly not unhappy" that the governor made that statement.

Among the issues Angelos could raise in a lawsuit is whether he had been given assurances by baseball's leaders that he would not face competition inside the Washington-Baltimore market. The state of Maryland, too, could make a claim that the security of the debt it issued to construct Oriole Park could be put at risk.

Angelos did not return phone calls seeking comment.

DuPuy, however, said yesterday that Angelos has not threatened a lawsuit.

"There have been no gauntlets thrown down," he said.

DuPuy said there weren't negotiations over the past two days because MLB officials were dealing with the steroid issue.

"Our discussions in some areas have been very fruitful," he said. "While there are still some definitional issues that need to be resolved, in my view they can be resolved and we can reach an accord.

"There are some other areas where in my view there is still a significant difference of opinion with regard to what the appropriate measure of compensation should be."

The owners' approval came in a conference call shortly after noon. There was no discussion, just a roll-call vote that ended 29 to 1.

The approval is subject to all the conditions set forth in the Baseball Stadium Agreement that was signed Sept. 29 by the Expos and Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

That agreement calls for funding for a new, 41,000-seat stadium on the Anacostia waterfront in southeast Washington to be approved by Dec. 31. The agreement said the cost of acquiring the land, building the ballpark and refurbishing RFK Stadium, where the Nationals will play while the new stadium is built, would be $435 million. But a recent report from the city's chief financial officer put the cost at $530 million.

On Tuesday, the Council of the District of Columbia approved the agreement by a 6-to-4 vote, with three abstentions. A second vote, scheduled for Dec. 14, is needed before the measure becomes law.

However, several amendments were attached to the bill, including one from D.C. Council chairwoman Linda W. Cropp that would cap the price of the stadium at $630 million. If a second review by the chief financial officer showed a higher cost, the stadium site would have to be changed.

"Now that we have moved closer to having baseball in the nation's capital, I hope that city leaders and MLB officials can soon sit down and discuss some of the concerns that the we have regarding the contract," Cropp said in a statement. "We want to make this a happy homecoming for everybody."

Said DuPuy: "Nobody expects there not to be discussion and not to be concerns, and for lots of legitimate reasons for the most part. At the end of the day, we are confident, based on the statements made by the mayor and based on our interaction with the council members, that this legislation will get passed and we'll have a stadium and we'll be playing at RFK next year."

Chris Bender, a spokesman for Williams, said the mayor would attempt to engage MLB officials in discussions.

"He was in the room for that [council] vote," Bender said. "He heard the sentiments in the room, and he made a commitment to the chairman. ... He's not going to go back on the deal. We're going to do everything we said we'd do in the [agreement] ... We'll see where it goes."

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