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How Baseball Does Business

Angelos, Selig Last Men Standing in D.C.'s Way

By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 29, 2004; Page A01

Last of three articles

MILWAUKEE -- Two weeks ago, at a dinner honoring Commissioner of Baseball Allan H. "Bud" Selig and his wife for their support of Israel, Selig's oldest friend ran into one of his newest ones.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), a friend since childhood and the owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, extended his hand to Peter G. Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles and the leading opponent of moving the Montreal Expos to the Washington area.

The Major League Constitution was rewritten to give Allan H. "Bud" Selig increased authority over economic issues. (Morry Gash -- AP)

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"I'm your biggest protector," the three-term senator told Angelos.

Kohl wagged his index finger as he explained to Angelos, a top Democratic party contributor, how he had warned Selig not to put a team in Washington.

"I told [him], 'Don't you dare,' " Kohl said.

Angelos sat by the commissioner during the tribute dinner while Kohl told sandlot stories from Selig's youth. The keynote speaker was political commentator George F. Will, one of Selig's closest advisers and a former member of the Orioles board of directors.

The next day, Selig said Kohl called and told him about his remarks to the Orioles' owner, which were made in front of a reporter.

"He was just kidding," Selig said of Kohl. "I wouldn't take that too seriously."

But Selig added that as a fellow team owner, Kohl was "sensitive" to Angelos's concerns. "Look, if you own a team, there's a certain understanding," said Selig, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1970. "You try not to hurt your existing partners."

Sometime after the July 13 All-Star Game in Houston, Selig plans to decide if the Expos will be moved to Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia or one of five other areas. The decision will be the culmination of a process shrouded in secrecy and entirely consistent with Selig's highly personal management of Major League Baseball -- a style sanctioned by the sport's unique antitrust exemption.

And in the end, it may all turn on the relationship between two powerful men.

No one knows if Selig will defy Angelos, who or what might influence him to do so, or how the owner will respond.

After 16 months of fruitless negotiations, District Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has offered baseball the choice of a fully funded ballpark near RFK Stadium for the Expos or three other more attractive sites for an annual fee of $5 million or less. Northern Virginia, too, has offered a $360 million stadium complex near Dulles International Airport, mostly funded by the state and which would include $10 million annual lease payments by the team occupant.

As the decision draws closer, baseball officials acknowledge that concerns about the Orioles are a factor. Yet Robert A. DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer, said neither he nor Selig has spoken with Angelos about putting a team in the capital area.

"What is there to talk about?" DuPuy said.

He said it made no sense to create "ill will" with the Orioles owner by bringing up a subject that would be moot if baseball decided to move the Expos elsewhere.

Asked if it then made sense to negotiate with the District and Northern Virginia for huge public subsidies without also coming to terms with Angelos, DuPuy replied: "If they don't want a team, then they don't have to participate. They want a team, and we have the asset."

Dictating the Situation

Since becoming commissioner in 1992 (he was elected officially in 1998), Selig has accumulated powers unavailable to any of his eight predecessors.

In January 2000, baseball dissolved the offices of the American and National leagues and reduced the once-powerful league presidents to ceremonial positions, stripping baseball of the last vestiges of a system that divided the sport over issues ranging from the designated hitter to franchise movement.

The Major League Constitution was rewritten to give Selig increased authority over economic issues -- powers so sweeping that they expire at the end of his term so his successors cannot abuse them. Selig can act unilaterally on any matter pertaining to collective bargaining between the owners and players.

Selig can also remove or suspend any owner, officer or employee for any action "deemed by the Commissioner not to be in the best interests of Baseball." He can fine a team up to $2 million and an officer, owner or club employee up to $500,000.

"I've always felt baseball should be run more like a benevolent dictatorship, and it's closer to that now than it used to be," said Bill Giles, the National League president and chairman of the Philadelphia Phillies. "I don't think there are any owners in this day and age that have any more clout than the other guy. . . . It's pretty much Bud Selig's show right now."

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