washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > MLB > Expos
Page 4 of 5  < Back     Next >

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

The Major League Constitution requires three-fourths approval of all teams to move a franchise. Selig is well known for waiting to take a vote until the outcomes are certain. Angelos would need seven other owners to block a move.

Claude R. Brochu, who served on baseball's Executive Council under Selig as the then-owner of the Montreal Expos, said Angelos could use "moral suasion as one of 30 partners" to block the deal. "He could say, 'Don't screw me,' and I think everybody would listen to what he would have to say, just because he would be a partner."

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

Washington Senators The District has been without major league baseball for more than 30 years. Look back at a visual history of the Washington Senators.
_____MLB Basics_____
Team index
Music Downloads
MLB Section

Angelos might get support from other teams that, like the Orioles, enjoy protected monopolies. The Mets and Yankees, for example, share a territory composed of New York City, two New York counties, four New Jersey counties and a 300-mile swath of Fairfield County in Connecticut -- an area of roughly 15 million people.

The Yankees' financial domination is a matter of obsessive concern inside baseball. Many officials believe putting a team in northern New Jersey is one solution. But Selig has seemed to discourage competition. He feared that tampering with baseball's artificial economic boundaries could lead to instability and a reduction in franchise values.

"I happen to respect territories," he said.

Selig derives his power over franchise movement from the antitrust exemption. The law gave the owners explicit authority to control expansion, location or relocation without being prosecuted or investigated for anti-competitive behavior.

In one application of the law, Selig continued to block the Oakland Athletics from relocating to San Jose, even though that city was 30 miles farther from the San Francisco Giants than Network Associates Coliseum, the A's home park.

San Jose was the hub of Santa Clara County. In the 1980s, baseball extended San Francisco's territory to allow former owner Bob Lurie to seek a stadium there. The bid failed, but the territory remained. Magowan, who bought the team in 1992, now argued that Santa Clara County was effectively included in the purchase price.

Magowan said he intended to "fight to the death" to keep San Jose.

The Bay Area is the prism through which Selig views the Baltimore-Washington debate. The market, he said, is not "a perfect analogy" but baseball needs to "learn from history" as it considers whether to put two teams so close together. His views were shaped by the struggles of the Giants and Athletics after A's then-owner Charles O. Finley moved his team from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968 "without any analysis at all," Selig said.

But recent developments have made Selig's views, along with many of the underlying assumptions shaping the debate in Washington, appear obsolete. Buoyed by the construction of a privately funded waterfront stadium, the Giants came within eight outs of winning the 2002 World Series and won the National League West last season by 15 1/2 games. The A's have drawn more than 2 million fans three straight seasons and had the second-best record in baseball from 2000 to '03.

"Competition is a wonderful thing; I believe in it strongly," said Steve Schott, the A's owner and one of the largest homebuilders in California. "If you don't have competition, what's to keep the other team from being very lax and complacent about trying to bring the best product they can to the marketplace?"

The population of the Bay Area, including San Jose, is 7 million. The population of the consolidated Baltimore-Washington metropolitan areas is 7.6 million.

Historical Perspective

On Sept. 20, 1971, the owners of the 12 American League teams gathered in Boston to decide the fate of the Washington Senators. One of those owners was Selig. The owner of the Senators, Robert Short, wanted to move the club to Arlington, Tex. He faced resistance from commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a former "scoreboard boy" at Griffith Stadium.

After a local ownership group fell apart at the last minute, the somber vote began. Baltimore, ironically, was opposed. The vote came around to Selig, who six years earlier had fought unsuccessfully to keep the Milwaukee Braves from moving to Atlanta before helping lure the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee to replace the Braves.

"I felt like Caesar staring at Brutus when I saw Milwaukee vote for the move," Kuhn wrote in his autobiography. Selig, who was 37 at the time, said he felt "physically sick that night. I sort of felt I had betrayed myself."

Selig said his mentor, late Detroit Tigers owner John Fetzer, convinced him they had no choice because no local ownership group had stepped forward in Washington. Three decades later, on Jan. 17, 2002, Selig stood at a lectern after an owners meeting in Phoenix. His strategy to "contract" the Expos and another club had collapsed. Baseball was on the verge of a three-team swap involving Boston, Florida and Montreal, which would be taken over by baseball's 29 other teams.

Selig announced that baseball was preparing to begin a process that could reverse his 1971 vote. Relocation, the commissioner said, was coming "in the near future" and Washington was "the prime candidate."

Inside baseball, the Washington area has widespread support.

"If I was an outsider -- and I'm more than an outsider; I'm one of the owners who will be voting -- you'd have to [pick] Washington for a number of reasons," Schott said last year. "From the demographic standpoint, the population, the per-capita income level, the political point of view. If I was a betting person, I'd bet on Washington, but stranger things have happened in baseball."

Fourteen months later, a sense of urgency infused the process as baseball geared up for two days of formal presentations starting March 20, 2003, in Phoenix.

With an informal all-star break deadline for a decision, officials from the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., offered baseball $250 million to $300 million subsidies for ballparks with views of the Washington monuments and, in Portland's case, snowcapped Mount Hood.

Three months later, with the all-star break deadline fast approaching, Mayor Williams tried to close the deal. In a three-hour June 20 meeting at the Wilson Building, District officials presented more detailed information about the bid to three members of the relocation committee. At one point, Williams asked for an exclusive negotiating window to try to get the deal done.

< Back  1 2 3 4 5    Next >

© 2004 The Washington Post Company