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Thomas Boswell

Cropped Out of the Picture

By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page D01

Late Tuesday night, in the 11th hour of a marathon D.C. Council meeting, chairman Linda W. Cropp blew to smithereens the deal that MLB thought it had in place with Washington to build a ballpark on the Anacostia waterfront. With that single blow, which leaves baseball no alternatives, the return of major league baseball to the nation's capital is now dead.

The bits of charred ash and shattered fragments that you see falling from the sky are the remnants of the destruction that Cropp wrought. With one amendment to a stadium-funding bill, she demolished the most basic pillar on which the District's agreement with baseball was built. By a 10-3 vote, the council demanded that at least half of the cost of any new stadium be built with private financing, which does not exist, rather than public funding, as stipulated in D.C.'s deal with baseball.

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A stadium in search of hypothetical funding, funding that may never be found, is not a stadium at all. It is just a convenient political lie. The entire purpose of baseball's long search for a new home for the Expos was so the sport could sell the team. Who is going to buy a team to play in a stadium that isn't funded and may never be? Nobody. Nobody on earth.

Now, thanks to Cropp, baseball's entire motive for moving the ex-Expos to Washington -- to sell the team -- has been erased. Any solid deal in any town is now better than what Washington is offering -- which is nothing.

The question of whether baseball will now jerk its franchise out of Washington is not a question at all. It is a foregone conclusion. Why would baseball come here? We have pulled a bait-and-switch on the sport. We have broken a deal negotiated by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the city's highest elected official. And worst of all, Cropp and her council didn't have the guts to stand up and say: "This stadium is too good a deal for baseball and not good enough for the District. You tied poor Mayor Williams in a knot. We're not approving such a lousy ballpark deal. We reject it. Take your team somewhere else."

That's a defensible position. It may be right or wrong. But those are the kind of decisions a city's council should make.

Instead, Cropp and her crowd want to hide their true intentions so they will not have "They Killed Baseball" signs nailed to their political backs. But that's what they did. And that's who they are.

Cropp doesn't want to leave fingerprints. Instead, she wants to leave the impression that she was merely trying to save the District money. Instead, she has now cost it a team and all the benefits of development in Southeast that it might have ignited.

"I do not want to do the public financing of this deal at this level," said Cropp. "I am not sure how baseball will react. But without this piece [of the legislation] I will not vote for this agreement."

Oh, she knows how baseball will react. It'll go ballistic. Will the sport want to come to Washington badly enough to put up with what council member Jack Evans, the point man throughout negotiations, called "a complete violation of our deal"?

In our dreams. The Nationals are gone. That didn't take long, did it? Save those hats with the tilted 'W' on the front. They'll be collectors' items before the week is over. Only a miracle could save Washington's deal with baseball now. Cropp killed it. Whether she did it out of civic conscience, as she claims, or pique, or political aspiration or simply -- and this is a possibility -- a general ignorance of the waters in which she was swimming, is a question for the future.

Right now, the entire baseball-for-Washington scene is in chaos and confusion.

Apparently, hell hath no fury like Cropp when she feels that she has been spurned by baseball. Earlier in the day, she contacted baseball about adding a clause to the stadium bill that would have capped the District's possible damages at $19 million a year if the park was not finished on time. She didn't like the answer she got which was basically, "A deal is a deal."

"I received a letter from baseball that was not a good faith effort," said an annoyed Cropp.

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