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Owners Approve Baseball in Washington by 29-1 Vote

By Barry Svrluga and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 4, 2004; Page D01

MLB's owners officially approved the return of baseball to Washington yesterday, albeit with the same caveat that hangs over the entire process -- that the District must meet the terms of a deal brokered in September -- and with a single but potentially complicating naysayer, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

The 29-1 vote in favor of moving the Montreal Expos to Washington -- where they have been renamed the Nationals -- came during a brief conference call early yesterday afternoon. According to two baseball sources, the Orioles cast the lone dissenting vote.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, right, still has work to do in tidying up details of the District's plan to build a stadium for the Nationals. (Manuel Balce Ceneta -- AP)

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"This is another important step in finalizing the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C.," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "We are looking forward to finishing the last few steps, including the sale of the ballclub, and the rebirth of the club as the Washington Nationals."

Selig did not address the two remaining hurdles -- the desire of some District officials to renegotiate parts of a deal to build a publicly financed stadium, and a compensation package for Angelos.

The D.C. Council gave preliminary approval to the stadium financing legislation Tuesday, but it added several amendments that weren't part of the original deal brokered by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) with baseball -- including another study of the potential costs by the city's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi. If the price is $100 million more than the $531 million Gandhi estimated during his first analysis, the mayor would have to find a new site for the stadium.

Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a baseball proponent, said he didn't know whether MLB would find that amendment acceptable. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), who authored the amendment, has said Williams intends to go back to baseball to discuss making changes to the stadium agreement. During an appearance Thursday in Washington, Selig was clear that baseball has no intention of altering the existing deal.

In a written statement, Cropp said yesterday: "I'm glad that MLB has made it official to move the Expos to D.C. 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 we have regarding the contract. We want to make this a happy homecoming for everybody."

Mayoral spokesman Chris Bender said Williams was pleased with baseball's vote.

"It's more than a formality," Bender said. "This shows they want baseball here in D.C. as much as we do. It shows they believe we have fulfilled all our commitments we said we would. And they're saying they think we can get the job done."

Angelos has long opposed a baseball team in Washington on the grounds that it would drain away fans and financially impair the franchise. Once it decided to move the team to Washington, MLB approached Angelos with a compensation package designed to offset any adverse impact the Nationals would have on the Baltimore club.

Though MLB President Robert DuPuy was in Baltimore this week, and the sides were working as late as Thursday night, a deal still hasn't been struck. Angelos has privately told associates that he intends to take legal action if the sides can't reach a deal, though he didn't do so yesterday.

Instead, the Orioles released a statement from general counsel H. Russell Smouse addressing what they consider the "dramatic adverse impact" of the Nationals on the Orioles.

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

Smouse said discussions continue. Angelos wants baseball to guarantee that the Orioles would not sell for less than $365 million. If the team couldn't fetch that price should Angelos decide to sell, baseball would be required to make up the difference. Angelos also wants baseball to guarantee that his local revenues -- from such sources as ticket sales, local television, parking and concessions -- won't fall below $125 million annually.

Finally, Angelos wants to make sure a joint Orioles-Nationals regional sports network would provide his team with the majority of its revenue. Angelos has argued that he has maintained exclusive rights to the local cable rights for baseball, and he should be compensated because he will now have to share those with the Nationals.

The Nationals plan to unveil their complete uniforms on Dec. 13, almost certainly by bringing one of the current players to Washington for a public appearance. Hats -- red for home, blue on the road -- are already on sale. The home jerseys will be white with "Nationals" in red letters with a blue-and-gold outline stripped across the front. The away jerseys will be gray with "Washington" in blue letters with a red-and-gold outline across the chest. Both jerseys will button down the front and have a "DC" logo on one sleeve.

Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company