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Thomas Boswell

Nationals Face an Unhappy New Year

By Thomas Boswell
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page D01

Major League Baseball has given the District a stay of execution until Dec. 31.

When the ball drops on New Year's Eve, Washington can say goodbye to the "Nationals," all the joy they might have brought and all the urban rejuvenation they might have ignited on the Anacostia waterfront, unless some sanity is restored.

Bud Selig is giving the District a second chance; imagine the outcry if it was MLB using bait-and-switch tactics? (Ben Margot -- AP)

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Perhaps because he just learned last week that he had escaped a serious brush with cancer, Commissioner Bud Selig is infused with the holiday spirit. At any rate, he and his sport have given the District an enormous Christmas gift: a second chance.

In the coming days, Washington and its infuriating, disingenuous D.C. Council must make a simple, straightforward decision. Do they want to accept the deal for a new stadium that was struck between the sport and Mayor Anthony A. Williams? Or don't they?

That's it. Yes. Or no.

Either answer is acceptable. City councils decide such things. It's their job.

What is utterly and absolutely not acceptable is the current behavior of Council Chairman Linda Cropp and nine of her colleagues who want to bait-and-switch baseball into a radically altered deal than the one which Williams negotiated exhaustively -- as his city's official representative -- over a two-year period.

In business, a deal is a deal, something Cropp refuses to understand. For her any deals, those made by others or even ones she has agreed to herself in recent days, are not deals at all. They are just a starting point for her next demand. And if she finally hears "No" to one of her new conditions, as she did on Tuesday from baseball, she threatens to sabotage the whole deal.

Finally, yesterday, baseball became completely disgusted and drew a line in the sand.

"The legislation approved by the District of Columbia City Council last night . . . is inconsistent with our carefully negotiated agreement and is wholly unacceptable," said MLB's Bob DuPuy in a statement. "Because our stadium agreement provides for a December 31, 2004 deadline, we will not entertain offers for permanent relocation of the club until that deadline passes.

"In the meantime, the club's baseball operations will proceed, but its business and promotional activities will cease."

In other words, baseball will honor its deal, right down to the Dec. 31 deadline. After that, it will start the work of moving the team to another city. According to highly placed sources, no games will be played at RFK Stadium next season if the Washington ballpark deal dies. "It's fair to assume that's out of the question," said one source.

When you make a deal with baseball, they honor it. If you break a deal with them, you're out. Which is as it should be. But then baseball is big league, unlike the D.C. Council, which is bush league and just damaged the city's reputation coast-to-coast.

If you want to see how atrociously the District is acting, then simply put the shoe on the other foot.

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