Last of three articles
Two weeks ago, at a dinner honoring Commissioner of Baseball Allan H. "Bud" Selig and his wife for their support of Israel, Selig's oldest friend ran into one of his newest ones.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), a friend since childhood and the owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, extended his hand to Peter G. Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles and the leading opponent of moving the Montreal Expos to the Washington area.
"I'm your biggest protector," the three-term senator told Angelos.
Kohl wagged his index finger as he explained to Angelos, a top Democratic party contributor, how he had warned Selig not to put a team in Washington.
"I told [him], 'Don't you dare,' " Kohl said.
Angelos sat by the commissioner during the tribute dinner while Kohl told sandlot stories from Selig's youth. The keynote speaker was political commentator George F. Will, one of Selig's closest advisers and a former member of the Orioles board of directors.
The next day, Selig said Kohl called and told him about his remarks to the Orioles' owner, which were made in front of a reporter.
"He was just kidding," Selig said of Kohl. "I wouldn't take that too seriously."
But Selig added that as a fellow team owner, Kohl was "sensitive" to Angelos's concerns. "Look, if you own a team, there's a certain understanding," said Selig, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1970. "You try not to hurt your existing partners."
Sometime after the July 13 All-Star Game in Houston, Selig plans to decide if the Expos will be moved to Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia or one of five other areas. The decision will be the culmination of a process shrouded in secrecy and entirely consistent with Selig's highly personal management of Major League Baseball -- a style sanctioned by the sport's unique antitrust exemption.
And in the end, it may all turn on the relationship between two powerful men.
No one knows if Selig will defy Angelos, who or what might influence him to do so, or how the owner will respond.
After 16 months of fruitless negotiations, District Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has offered baseball the choice of a fully funded ballpark near RFK Stadium for the Expos or three other more attractive sites for an annual fee of $5 million or less. Northern Virginia, too, has offered a $360 million stadium complex near Dulles International Airport, mostly funded by the state and which would include $10 million annual lease payments by the team occupant.
As the decision draws closer, baseball officials acknowledge that concerns about the Orioles are a factor. Yet Robert A. DuPuy, baseball's president and chief operating officer, said neither he nor Selig has spoken with Angelos about putting a team in the capital area.
"What is there to talk about?" DuPuy said.
He said it made no sense to create "ill will" with the Orioles owner by bringing up a subject that would be moot if baseball decided to move the Expos elsewhere.
Asked if it then made sense to negotiate with the District and Northern Virginia for huge public subsidies without also coming to terms with Angelos, DuPuy replied: "If they don't want a team, then they don't have to participate. They want a team, and we have the asset."
Dictating the Situation
Since becoming commissioner in 1992 (he was elected officially in 1998), Selig has accumulated powers unavailable to any of his eight predecessors.
In January 2000, baseball dissolved the offices of the American and National leagues and reduced the once-powerful league presidents to ceremonial positions, stripping baseball of the last vestiges of a system that divided the sport over issues ranging from the designated hitter to franchise movement.
The Major League Constitution was rewritten to give Selig increased authority over economic issues -- powers so sweeping that they expire at the end of his term so his successors cannot abuse them. Selig can act unilaterally on any matter pertaining to collective bargaining between the owners and players.
Selig can also remove or suspend any owner, officer or employee for any action "deemed by the Commissioner not to be in the best interests of Baseball." He can fine a team up to $2 million and an officer, owner or club employee up to $500,000.
"I've always felt baseball should be run more like a benevolent dictatorship, and it's closer to that now than it used to be," said Bill Giles, the National League president and chairman of the Philadelphia Phillies. "I don't think there are any owners in this day and age that have any more clout than the other guy. . . . It's pretty much Bud Selig's show right now."
The changes enabled Selig to implement what are regarded by some as his biggest successes. They include interleague play, a wild-card playoff system, enhanced revenue-sharing among teams and a new rule limiting the amount of debt a team can carry. The rule goes into effect next year and already appears to have achieved the drag on salaries the owners have sought for three decades.
Spencer W. Waller, director of the Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies at Loyola University in Chicago, said baseball's changes are logical when viewed in the context of its exemption from antitrust laws.
"The single biggest issue in any cartel is preventing the members from defecting from the agreement," Waller said. "Most of the reorganization of Major League Baseball in recent years is designed to detect and punish defection from the underlying agreements between the owners. It's the perfect thing you would expect the members of a cartel to do. It's not illegal; they have an exemption. But any economist would go, 'Oh, yeah. It makes perfect sense.' "
Owners and baseball officials said Selig is a master politician who uses tactics ranging from jaw-boning to ego massage to keep owners in line. He works the phones constantly and talks to most owners before coming to a decision, gradually building consensus. Selig controls all committee appointments, including the eight-owner Executive Council, which makes most major decisions.
One Major League Baseball official who has worked closely with Selig described him as "an expert in behavioral modification."
"Some of his preferred tools are off-the-record character assassination made to the media and other owners, and minimizing [owners'] participation in high-profile committees," the official said. "Remember that the majority of the owners are egocentric and want to be respected and admired by their peers. Most have paid a significant price to become a member of this exclusive club and hate the thought of being publicly or privately shunned or minimized by other members."
Selig's most successful project has been Angelos. "If Peter was backstabbing Bud and screwing the industry, we'd have a team in D.C. right now," said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. In fact, Selig and Angelos are "almost linked at the hip," the official said.
Angelos, in a phone interview Monday night, said Selig is aware of his often-stated concerns that a team in Washington or Northern Virginia would "cause serious economic consequences to the Orioles."
"I think Bud Selig is going to make up his mind on his own," Angelos said. "Foremost in his decision will be what he believes is good for baseball. Hopefully, that includes his desire to preserve the stability of the Orioles team. That's my position."
The relationship between Selig and Angelos has shifted 180 degrees since he bought the Orioles for $173 million -- at the time the highest price for a sports franchise -- at a 1993 bankruptcy auction. It was a decision, he joked, that grew out of "a moment of weakness, or a moment of ego nourishment."
The following year, Angelos famously opposed the Selig-led labor strategy that led to the cancellation of the World Series. He rejected the use of replacement players in 1995 as "Selig's delusion." He called revenue-sharing -- a centerpiece of the owners' economic proposal -- "the antithesis of the very essence of this country: competition."
The acting commissioner, Angelos told a writer at the time, was merely "a handmaiden of the owners."
Angelos now calls Selig "the best advocate for the game. Yeah, I once had different views. But they were in the beginning, when I was new and green."
Angelos said his views shifted for various reasons, including a growing disillusionment with a lopsided economic system that he said most rewards his divisional rivals, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Angelos spent lavishly to compete with those teams. In December 1998, he gave a five-year, $65 million contract to moody slugger Albert Belle, a bust whose career ended in March 2001 because of a degenerative hip condition. Beginning in 1998, the Orioles finished in fourth place in six straight seasons. Attendance fell from a franchise high of 3.7 million in 1997 to 2.5 million in 2003.
Orioles executives began to notice a change in Angelos. When he came into the game, the self-made attorney who became wealthy litigating class-action asbestos suits seemed to empathize with the players and their powerful union. He established a rapport with Donald Fehr, the union's executive director, whom the owners had sought to demonize.
"The more he dealt with players, and the longer he was in the game, the more he understood [that] these aren't dock workers," said one executive who worked under Angelos during this period and requested anonymity because he still does business with the Orioles.
Angelos began to refer to the players' association as a "guild," a term he used to draw comparisons of the players to pampered entertainers, according to a major league official who interacted with him.
At the same time, Selig said he had been having steady conversations with Angelos. "After the strike got settled, I made it a point to . . . talk to him, to explain things to him," Selig said. "And he, in running the club, began to run into considerable economic difficulties, to put it very bluntly. And the more we would talk, and the more we spent time together, well, it was just a very gradual thing. There was no precipitating event. He just came to understand."
By 2004, Angelos was espousing full National Football League-style revenue-sharing as a solution to baseball's economic problems. With it, he said, "obviously there would be no concern about . . . a team in close proximity to the Orioles or any other major league franchise."
Angelos's movement toward baseball's political center brought the sport a powerful advocate.
Angelos made $5,000 in political contributions during the 1993-94 election cycle, the years immediately after he entered Major League Baseball, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics and PoliticalMoneyLine.com.
From 2000 to '04, he gave $2,709,200, nearly all of it to Democrats. Including his family, Angelos donated more than $3 million to politicians during that period. Of Angelos's donations, the largest amount, $875,000, went to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Angelos has not given money to Kohl, records show, and Angelos said he had met the Wisconsin senator just three times. Angelos said Kohl was merely "kidding him on the level" two weeks ago when he made the remark at the dinner. He disputed that Kohl or anyone else could influence the decision.
"Bud Selig is not going to consider what Herb Kohl said to him when the ultimate decision is made," Angelos said. "I wish you were right, but I want to tell you, that isn't going to happen. Bud Selig answers to the 29 owners and Bud Selig has a mission and a vision for baseball."
Kohl declined to be interviewed. His spokesman, Zach Goldberg, said the senator had made "a lighthearted remark" and had no opinion on a Washington area team. Kohl is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee. He said he recuses himself from sports-related matters, including legislation related to baseball's exemption from antitrust laws, which gives Selig unrestricted power over relocation.
Selig named Angelos to baseball's legislative affairs/government relations committee in the late 1990s. The committee of 10 owners lobbied Congress, primarily on the preservation of the antitrust exemption. Angelos, Boston Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry and Atlanta Braves Chairman Emeritus William C. Bartholomay were the only Democrats on the committee, according to William H. Schweitzer, one of Major League Baseball's lobbyists.
The combined federal donations of the other nine members of the Legislative Committee from 2000 to '04 was $1,153,618 -- or roughly one-third of what Angelos and his family contributed.
Angelos's presence in Major League Baseball, whose owners were mostly Republican, gave the sport's lobbying efforts an added dimension.
Schweitzer, a partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP, said Angelos was helpful with Democratic lawmakers previously hostile to baseball. "Some of the places that had been unfriendly to baseball in the past, at least we had a door to help us go through," he said.
Schweitzer and Lucy J. Calautti, a Democrat who also lobbies for Major League Baseball, maintained four season tickets to Orioles games that they sold, at cost, to lawmakers, aides, White House employees, the media and others who do business with baseball.
Angelos's greatest contribution to Selig came in 2001, when the collective-bargaining agreement between the owners and players was about to expire. The negotiations loomed as the most important in the game's tortured labor history. Both sides feared another work stoppage. Yet Selig, armed with his new powers, had united the owners in pushing for dramatic economic changes.
Selig persuaded Angelos to work on the negotiating committee along with one other club executive, Cubs President and CEO Andrew B. MacPhail. Selig said he chose Angelos because he was a proven negotiator and "knew the business. He understood how the economics of the business had changed . . . This was not something he volunteered to do. I had to be pretty persuasive."
"It was the most important job anyone could take on, and he did it," said Peter A. Magowan, the managing general partner of the San Francisco Giants. "To be asked by the commissioner to participate on a matter of that importance, it's almost like the president of the United States asking you. It's an honor."
Angelos is said to have played a central role in getting the players' association to agree to unprecedented concessions. He also helped define the owners' newfound tenacity against the players' union. During one negotiating session on steroid testing, which the union resisted, Angelos engaged in a heated exchange with associate general counsel Gene Orza in a scene two senior MLB officials described as "ugly."
Selig said, "I don't think we would have ended up where we are without Peter Angelos and Andy MacPhail."
The new labor agreement already has saved the owners millions of dollars. In 2001, just 8 percent of all free agents signed for $1 million or less. This past winter, more than one-quarter did.
Last year, Selig named Angelos to the Executive Council. Giles described that committee as "the group that runs baseball. Bud is the leader of that council and usually whatever the Executive Council decides gets done. I don't think in the last five years there's been any disagreement."
Selig said Angelos "certainly earned the appointment." But he denied that his relationship with Angelos would color his decision on whether to put a team in Washington.
"Do I have a great deal of respect and affection for Peter Angelos? You bet I do," Selig said. But he said "all decisions on the future of the game have to be made in the best interests of baseball."
Technically, Angelos has no control over another team moving into the Washington market. The Major League Constitution defined Baltimore's "operating territory" as the city of Baltimore, and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Harford counties in Maryland.
But Angelos argues that the Orioles' broadcast revenue would be gutted. The team's games are televised in the District, Maryland, Virginia, four counties in south-central Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pa., Delaware, two counties in West Virginia, and the central and eastern regions of North Carolina, according to the Orioles. Angelos said a 2001 Deloitte & Touche study concluded that the Orioles' broadcast revenue would diminish by 60 percent with a team in Washington or Northern Virginia.
"Clearly, in either jurisdiction you have the same problem," said Angelos.
Angelos declined to say what action he might take if Major League Baseball tried to move the Expos into the Washington area. Clark C. Griffith, a Minneapolis antitrust attorney and former Twins executive whose father moved the club from Washington in 1960, said he believed "it's actually very clear that [the Orioles] don't" have legal standing to block the move.
"But that does not mean that the Orioles would not file lawsuits under a number of theories claiming they've somehow been harmed; we lawyers can think of those things pretty fast," Griffith said. "Whether or not it will have merit or staying power is subject very often to the judge who is hearing the case."
Baseball officials concede that to move the Expos to the Washington area they will likely have to make a large cash payment to Angelos to compensate him and head off a potential lawsuit that could, at minimum, slow the process.
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."
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 151/2 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.
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.
"We can get it done like that," Williams promised, snapping his fingers, according to Robert D. Goldwater, the former president of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, who was at the meeting.
On July 15, Williams and his aides attended the All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. So did Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, and other members of the Northern Virginia bid effort. But baseball's self-imposed deadline passed without acknowledgement.
The delegation returned home to "radio silence," Goldwater said. For the next month and a half, calls from District officials to Major League Baseball went unreturned, he said.
"We're just saying to baseball, 'Please bring a team here,' " Williams said last fall. "But who owns it, or what team, is up to them -- the man behind the door. But we don't seem to have very good communication with the man behind the door."
Baseball officials explained that no location had come forward with a good enough offer. "There's no spanking new stadium ready . . . where it's, 'Here's the key, let 'er rip,' " DuPuy said last October.
Unstated was the fact that the three locations were competing not only against each other but also against Angelos.
The Phillies' Giles said he "personally always wanted a team in Washington. Our nation's capital should have our nation's pastime." But the owners, Giles added, are "friends, and partners to some extent, and people just don't like to hurt other people. And if Angelos thinks he's going to get hurt, I think he'd get support."
After the 2003 baseball season ended, the field of potential relocation sites expanded to include not only Washington, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore., but also Norfolk; Monterrey, Mexico; and Las Vegas.
Baseball was scrambling. "If I promised to build a stadium in my backyard, baseball would come and look at my backyard as the potential new home for the Expos," said an investment banker involved in the process.
Selig, according to a major league official familiar with the process, had asked the relocation committee to look for alternatives to the District and Northern Virginia. Washington and Northern Virginia, he said, were not allowed to be "meaningfully discussed" because of Angelos's opposition and Selig's "unwavering support of Peter," the official said.
The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations, said the only way to persuade Selig to confront Angelos was for Washington or Northern Virginia to present an overwhelming bid.
"You have to ask yourself, 'Will Bud fight that fight?' " the official said. "And I'm telling you there is not a chance in hell he will fight that fight unless he's backed into a corner."
Then, in May, Williams offered baseball a fully funded ballpark. A month later, Northern Virginia announced plans for a $360 million ballpark as part of a 400-acre development project near Dulles. That project called for the team that occupied the stadium to help pay for its construction through annual $10 million rent payments.
"Major League Baseball . . . will make more money at the Dulles site than any other site or market they are considering," a project briefing prepared by the development team promised.
Mark K. Tuohey, the chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said the mayor decided to offer a fully funded stadium after it became "clear to us that they were going to get 100 percent financing" from another city. The evidence for that determination was unclear. Tuohey said District officials became convinced after reading press reports and talking to baseball executives. "I'm told Monterrey has that kind of proposal," Tuohey said. "I'm told that Las Vegas does."
Asked if he was concerned that the District was bidding against itself, Tuohey said: "No, I don't think we are. Because we looked at the 100 percent and it was doable."
In attendance when Williams presented the proposal to the relocation committee on May 6 was Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chair of the D.C. Council finance committee, who last June brought the process to a standstill by refusing to act on a financing package until the franchise had been officially awarded.
Evans said he was encouraged by committee chairman Jerry Reinsdorf's assurances that Angelos would not stop the Expos from moving to the District.
But Evans said he told Reinsdorf that it was impossible for baseball to make that claim unless baseball officials had already discussed the issue with Angelos.
"I said, 'Listen to this logic: If you're here seriously considering us, before you got here you have to have solved the Angelos issue,' " Evans said. "You can't be seriously here talking to me if you haven't."
Reinsdorf insisted that Angelos would not be a factor.
In Baltimore, meantime, the owner was quietly accelerating efforts to turn the Orioles into a regional franchise. During this past offseason, the word "Baltimore" was scrubbed from the home dugout roof at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Auxiliary scoreboards displaying an in-game linescore -- which once represented the Orioles as "BAL" -- now designated the home team as "O'S."
The team's broadcasters had been told in recent years: "We don't refer to [the team on the air] as Baltimore. We refer to it as the O's or the Birds," said Michael Reghi, the team's television play-by-play man until last season.
Even the club's news releases no longer carried a Baltimore dateline and uniformly began, "The Orioles announced today."
The fans who entered Camden Yards -- the thousands who came from the District and Virginia and suburban Maryland to see the Birds -- all were hard-pressed to find any mention of the Orioles' home city.
To those around the team, the message was unmistakable: Angelos was claiming Washington.
Staff researchers Julie Tate and Margot Williams and staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.