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Expos for Sale: Team Becomes Pawn of Selig

The lobbying effort was headed by William H. Schweitzer, a Baker & Hostetler partner who had worked nine years as general counsel for the American League. Schweitzer, a Republican, was joined by a Democrat, Lucy J. Calautti, former chief of staff for Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and the wife of Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

Schweitzer and Calautti decided to launch the first Political Action Committee of any major sport. "My whole thought was that if you're going to participate in the process, like they said they wanted to, you needed a PAC," said Schweitzer.

Whether in Montreal or San Juan, the Expos don't play to much of a home crowd. In May, a reporter counted 2,443 fans by hand in Puerto Rico. (Andres Leighton - AP)

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Since 2002, the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball Political Action Committee has raised $488,295 -- nearly all of it from baseball owners, officials and their relatives. It has distributed $102,500 to members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which have jurisdiction over antitrust matters.

Major League Baseball has spent $5.045 million on lobbying over the past six years, more than the NFL, NBA, NHL and the Professional Golfers' Association combined, according to federal lobbying disclosure records.

Schweitzer and Calautti bound the Blue Ribbon report and distributed it to every member of Congress. How many people actually read it is unclear, for it contained a startling recommendation: "Franchise relocation should be an available tool to address the competitive issues facing the game," the report stated.

Baseball had used the antitrust exemption to control franchise movement after the Senators left Washington in 1971. Now its own economic panel was concluding that one solution to baseball's economic problems was to break up regional monopolies "occupied by one or more high-revenue club."

The reference was clearly to markets such as New York, where the Yankees and Mets controlled an area of more than 15 million people, and the Washington-Baltimore corridor, the exclusive domain of the Baltimore Orioles.

"If the recommendations outlined in this report are implemented, there should be no immediate need for contraction," the panel added.

Within months of the report's circulation on Capitol Hill, however, baseball initiated plans to shut down at least two franchises.

DuPuy said Major League Baseball chose the more drastic step of contraction because the economic conditions in baseball had worsened considerably.

Inside baseball there was speculation that contraction was a part of the owners' pre-war buildup, a negotiating ploy designed to show the players' union that baseball was prepared to cut at least 7 percent of its work force if it did not gain concessions.

But owners and union representatives said contraction was not a tactic. "Obviously, it was real," wrote Red Sox owner Henry in a lengthy e-mail interview. Henry, whose former team, the Marlins, was a candidate, added, "In any business or industry, if you have companies or divisions that are not making it, you close them."

Richard E. Jacobs, the former owner of the Cleveland Indians, warned Selig: "It's going to be a bloody process. The blood's all going to be yours. Do it anyway."

The process began in October 2000. Selig announced at a Chicago owners meeting that he had asked DuPuy and Paul Beeston, then baseball's president and chief operating officer, to study the ramifications of eliminating franchises.

As the meeting broke up, Samson, the Expos' president, bolted across the room to confront Selig.

"What do you mean: You're contracting the Expos?" Samson asked incredulously.

DuPuy quickly grabbed Samson by the arm to defuse the situation.

"David, we'll talk," he said.

In the spring of 2001, Beeston scrawled a list of candidates on a piece of yellow lined paper and handed it to an aide. The list included the Expos, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics, Marlins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Anaheim Angels.

Throughout that summer, baseball officials met in the 31st floor executive conference room at Major League Baseball's headquarters at 245 Park Avenue in Manhattan. From the beginning, according to a former baseball official who participated, there were discussions about whether baseball had the legal authority to unilaterally eliminate teams. The contraction meetings were referred to by euphemisms such as "baseball issues" or "ownership issues." Participants sometimes were told not to take notes or to hand in their notes at the end of meetings, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of an ongoing federal racketeering suit filed by the former Expos limited partners.

Calautti and Schweitzer were asked to attend to help baseball gauge the potential reaction on Capitol Hill. With the Minnesota Twins in the line of fire, Calautti brought up potential objections by North Dakota's Dorgan, her former boss and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee's sub-committee on competition, foreign commerce and infrastructure.

"He's not going to go for that," Calautti warned.

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