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Expos for Sale: Team Becomes Pawn of Selig

Calautti said she did not recall bringing up Dorgan but said she raised concerns about a number of potential pockets of resistance, including the Minnesota and Florida congressional delegations.

A scheduled meeting for Sept. 11, 2001, at Selig's Milwaukee office was postponed because of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Within two weeks, according to Selig, owners were again clamoring to liquidate franchises. Selig told the owners he would wait until after the World Series.

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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On Nov. 6, 2001, baseball's owners, meeting in Chicago, voted 28-2 to contract. Only the Expos and Twins opposed.

But lingering in the air was a fundamental question: What about Washington?

"The Washington/Northern Virginia area was obviously very aggressive in pursuing a club, and we'll be very sensitive to their issues as time goes on," Selig told reporters.

Inside Major League Baseball's offices, Washington was an issue that seemed to hover in the air without ever being addressed head on. "It was amazing what a sticky point Washington was," said the former baseball official. "Anytime it got brought up it was like Ralph Kramden and the hummana, hummanas. Almost every time the discussion would eventually come around to, 'What about Washington?' "

Most believed Loria would have jumped at the chance to move the Expos to D.C. or Northern Virginia. "I think he always had his eye on Washington," said a baseball executive who worked closely with him. But that was out of the question. Around baseball, Loria's brief ownership was already viewed with disdain. He had quickly alienated his Montreal partners, which included some of the most influential businessmen in Canada. His stepson, Samson, was widely regarded as abrasive and disrespectful.

The former MLB official said DuPuy, Selig's closest adviser, told him more than once that the chances of Loria getting Washington were nil.

According to the former official, DuPuy conveyed the message, "It'll be over Bud's dead body before he lets that [expletive] have Washington."

DuPuy denied speaking pejoratively about Loria, with whom he said he had a good relationship. But he said the "sentiment" was accurate.

Power Move

Loria, who declined requests to be interviewed for this article, and Major League Baseball were on a collision course.

As the owners moved forward on contraction, Loria was systematically assuming total control over the Expos, the team in baseball's crosshairs.

Loria's plans for the Expos were unclear. When he bought the team, the deal included a critical second step in which Loria would put up an additional $38.8 million toward a new downtown ballpark.

Before the 2000 season, though, he had failed to negotiate a new local television deal and alienated sponsors. Plans for the ballpark evaporated. At the first meeting of the new partnership, Loria's chief financial officer, Joel A. Mael, stunned the limited partners by announcing a possible capital call -- a demand for cash to support operations.

Loria was an absentee owner, commuting from New York while Samson, his then-31-year-old stepson, ran the team. A former private wealth manager at Morgan Stanley with no previous baseball experience, the 5-foot-5 Samson grated on the limited partners, one of whom pushed him into a wall during a meeting. He came to be known around the Expos' offices as "Little Napoleon."

Soon, Loria and the limited partners were at war. After Loria issued a cash call on March 17, 2000, they staged what amounted to a coup. They told Loria they would give him back his $12 million if he would step down.

"They basically put a check on the table and said, 'Bugger off,' " said a source familiar with the meeting. Loria instead initiated another series of cash calls. If the limited partners failed to come up with the money their shares in the team would be diluted. Within 17 months Loria had gone from owning 24 percent of the Expos to more than 93 percent.

Asked why the partners failed to meet the cash calls, their lawyer, Jeffrey L. Kessler, said, "All they knew was that this was a destroyed team" run "by a general partner who they thought was totally out of control. . . . It was impossible for any sane investor, and Loria knew that." The move gave Loria the power to do basically whatever he wanted with the team.

But Major League Baseball had its own designs on the Expos. It wanted to buy out Loria and shut down the franchise, redistributing tens of millions of dollars in broadcast and licensing revenue, as well as millions of dollars the Expos received each year in revenue sharing.

Loria informed the owners he wasn't going anywhere. In January 2001, he stood up at an owners meeting in Phoenix and read an impassioned statement vowing to resist to stay in the game he loved. The drumbeats continued through the summer. "They were threatening us with a New York litigator virtually every conversation we had," said DuPuy.

The message: Loria would file an antitrust suit if Major League Baseball tried to muscle him out.

Shuffling Clubs

The "pushback" from Congress that Calautti and Schweitzer had predicted was fierce. Within a month, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing that quickly turned ugly. Selig, slight and ashen, was seated next to Jesse Ventura, the former Navy SEAL turned professional wrestler turned governor of Minnesota.

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