Nationals' Stadium Gets a New Lease on Life

By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

The fate of baseball in the District went deep into extra innings last night. As midnight approached, Robert DuPuy, president of Major League Baseball, answered his phone in a slightly sleepy voice. "I'm watching," he said.

So was everybody else concerned with Washington's third-of-a-century quest to get baseball back in the nation's capital. And keep it.

As they watched and listened to the D.C. Council's debate over a lease for a new ballpark, they held their breath -- for hours.

At dinner time, the Council voted 8 to 5 to reject a lease for a park on the Anacostia waterfront. With that vote, all hell broke loose. DuPuy released blistering comments to the media, including the threat that baseball would immediately go to arbitration with the District to force the city to honor its original contract to build a park to house the Nationals.

"We have accommodated every single issue of every council member," fumed a disgusted DuPuy. "This is shortsightedness in an election year by some politicians. They have no vision for the city. They can't see the forest for the trees.

"We will file arbitration tomorrow to have the original contract enforced and we will consider all other options."

What might those options be? Might baseball move the Nationals, at some point in the future, to another city?

"Hell, we haven't thought about that yet," said DuPuy. "We've worked our butt off to make this work in Washington."

Soon after DuPuy's comments, politicians in Virginia began issuing sweet promises to try to lure Major League Baseball across the water to the Old Dominion. Local TV stations carried the hot news that even made its way to the ears of council member Marion Barry. "Let them get it," Barry said. "Let them give away the store."

Finally, Mayor Anthony A. Williams implored, begged and cajoled the council to reconsider a decision that might, in an eventual lawsuit, cost the city tens of millions of dollars in damages sought by baseball for violating a ratified contract. According to sources in baseball, the sport believes that a $50 million judgment against the District is a proper "ballpark" figure.

Suddenly, some semblance of sanity and sobriety seemed to return to the council. Debate was reopened and, after midnight, the council voted to approve -- something.

What the council passed, by a 9 to 4 vote, looked like a stadium lease and walked like a stadium lease. But was it?

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