-- Major League Baseball is pressing forward with plans to move the Montreal Expos to the District, according to sources with direct knowledge of Thursday's meeting of baseball's Executive Council. Although Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos reiterated his opposition to the move during the meeting, baseball has resolved to construct a financial package over the next few days that would compensate him, the sources said.
With baseball's self-imposed deadline and the District's legislative deadline both coming at the end of next week, officials on both sides were preparing for an announcement soon that the Expos, currently owned and operated by MLB, would begin play at RFK Stadium next April.
"I think we're all running out of time and we realize that," said MLB President Robert A. DuPuy, speaking generally about the relocation process at a news conference in which he revealed few specifics but indicated that years of negotiations will conclude soon. "I'd like to think everybody is on the same wavelength with regard to time schedule. I think we're talking about a very short window of opportunity to continue to negotiate."
Sources, speaking on condition that they not be identified because talks are in a sensitive stage, described a process that is virtually complete on the strength of the District's bid, which includes a publicly funded $400 million stadium on the banks of the Anacostia River. The bid, the sources said, has overwhelmed the competition and has left Angelos few options to prevent the move. The Milwaukee meeting appeared to be another sign that a 33-year saga is quickly moving to a decision with some well-informed sources who were previously cautious now believing baseball will return to the District for the first time since 1971.
Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a key player on the relocation committee, worked with D.C. officials late into Wednesday night according to sources, hammering out the details of a 30-page memorandum of understanding that would govern construction and operation of the new stadium. At the meeting, held at the offices of Commissioner Bud Selig, the District's proposal drew support from Council members.
The District's stadium plan -- which still must be approved by the city council -- has moved it clearly ahead of Northern Virginia in the race for the Expos, according to baseball officials. Virginia officials had hoped to lure the Expos to a proposed stadium site near Dulles International Airport.
Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said Thursday he expects to receive formal notification of a decision by baseball by early next week, because baseball officials know "that we have a clock ticking."
Once the city obtains a signed agreement from baseball stating that the owners have decided to send the Expos to D.C., Tuohey said, city officials are planning a public announcement at RFK Stadium sometime next week.
The end of next week marks an important deadline for both baseball and the District. Baseball's regular season ends on Oct. 3, and Selig has a long-standing policy banning major announcements during the postseason, which runs until early November.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams's office must submit legislation to authorize the stadium financing package to the city council by next Friday in order to win approval and begin renovations on RFK Stadium, where the team would play for at least two seasons as a new stadium is built.
"We've told baseball we have to introduce the legislation by next Friday," Tuohey said. "We're not going to short-circuit any of the public comment periods. [The council does] not want to do this on an emergency basis. . . . We're going to introduce it by [next] Friday, and we intend to."
Angelos, who believes a team in Washington would harm the Orioles, left the meeting without speaking to reporters. Reached Thursday night by phone, he said, "I have no comment."
According to the source with knowledge of the meeting, Angelos's presentation to his fellow members on the Executive Council arguing against the move lasted about 15 minutes and was met with some support. San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan and New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, both of whom have similar territorial concerns as Angelos, are believed to be sympathetic to his concerns.
However, while none of the other candidates -- Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., Norfolk, and Monterrey, Mexico -- were formally eliminated, the majority of Council members expressed the belief that baseball has little choice but to move the team to Washington and deal with Angelos, sources said.
Asked whether Angelos can block a deal with D.C., Tuohey said, "I don't think so. I think there will be a resolution among the owners that will transfer the team to D.C. If they decide on the merits, we'll get it."
DuPuy said there were no discussions at Thursday's meeting regarding compensation for Angelos.
DuPuy said there are "some loose ends that need to get tied up" before the owners decide. One of them is almost certainly the federal lawsuit filed by the ex-partners of former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria, who are seeking an injunction to block the move of the franchise. The investors claim Loria purposely diluted their shares in the team in order to move it.
Although DuPuy has played down the threat of the lawsuit in the past, a source familiar with the issue said Thursday that baseball officials are concerned over its potential to affect their plans to move forward with relocation.
Baseball has not said whether the Expos would be sold immediately upon being moved. The league has owned the team since prior to the 2002 season, when its plans to "contract" -- or eliminate -- the team were foiled by various legal challenges. While the Washington Baseball Club has been pursuing the team for several years, there is no guarantee it will be allowed to purchase the Expos.
Winston Lord, executive director of the group, said it believes it is well-positioned to compete if MLB puts the team up for auction.
"We've been working with the city for five years to bring the nation's pastime back to the nation's capital," Lord said. "We have a strong and diverse group of local community and business leaders who have a deep and personal commitment to this city. If indeed this becomes competitive, we believe we are extremely well-positioned."
Baseball owners hope to sell the team for at least $300 million and they expect new potential buyers to emerge once the move to the District is approved, sources said. Any move must be approved by 22 of baseball's 29 owners.
Gene Orza, the second-ranking official in baseball's players' association, met with Expos players in Montreal prior to Thursday's game against the New York Mets, keeping them apprised of the situation.
"We're hopeful Major League Baseball will decide today . . . to relocate the franchise, hopefully in the D.C. area," Orza told Montreal radio station CKGM-AM (The Team-990).
Orza said the union strongly endorses selling the team immediately, rather than seeing baseball operate it for another season.
"It would be very disappointing if in fact Major League Baseball continued to operate this team and set its budget and playing personnel for any more time than they already have," he told the radio station. " . . . That's a basic integrity issue that I think it's the commissioner's obligation to address, and I think he senses that."
While there remains opposition within some factions of the city government for using public funds to pay for the stadium, proponents of the plan believe they have enough support to push it through. Bob Peck, chairman of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said it appears his members will support the financing plan, which he said is not significantly different from the plan the board endorsed last year.
"That isn't to say I haven't had some members volunteer that they are not happy with it," Peck said. "But in one or two cases, they thought this was a significant income tax hike. And when we told them the magnitude of the dollars, people said, 'Oh, never mind.' "
If baseball were to make its announcement next Thursday, it would hold a certain symbolic symmetry. On Sept. 30, 1971, the Senators played their final game at RFK Stadium.
Staff writers Peter Slevin, Lori Montgomery, Debbi Wilgoren and George Solomon contributed to this report. Sheinin, Montgomery, Wilgoren and Solomon reported from Washington; Heath and Slevin reported from Milwaukee.