Major League Baseball negotiators, led by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, held day-long sessions with District officials yesterday and toured RFK Stadium last evening as part of stepped-up efforts to find a new home for the Montreal Expos.
Reinsdorf, who heads a baseball relocation subcommittee focused on the Washington market, was joined by baseball executive vice president John McHale and general counsel Thomas J. Ostertag as they reviewed the District's bid with D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman Mark Tuohey.
Also in attendance was Deputy Mayor Eric Price, Judi Greenberg and Steve Green of the D.C. planning and economic development office, City Administrator Robert Bobb and sports commission member Bill Hall. The meeting was held at the Washington offices of Foley & Lardner, a Milwaukee-based law firm assisting baseball in the Expos relocation.
Baseball has scheduled negotiations today with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, which is trying to bring the Expos to a planned development in Loudoun County.
While baseball is still negotiating with Norfolk and Las Vegas, those cities are viewed by top baseball officials as backup choices to Washington and Northern Virginia as the league tries to resolve the Expos question before next season.
Baseball needs to make a decision soon in order to have time to accomplish the logistical details -- from lining up a temporary stadium to moving the team offices -- that accompany the relocation of a franchise.
The final decision will be up to Commissioner Bud Selig, who has stated on several occasions that he does not want to move the Expos to a new location that would adversely affect an existing team. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos opposes relocating a team in the Washington area because he believes it will injure his franchise by diluting the Baltimore-Washington baseball market. Angelos declined to comment.
The Expos were purchased in February 2002 by the league's 29 owners, who are said to be tired of subsidizing the financially ailing franchise.
League officials and some owners, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said baseball would prefer to move the Expos to Loudoun County, which would allow the league to take advantage of the Washington market at minimum injury to the Orioles.
Efforts to move the Expos to the District are complicated on several fronts, among them Selig's concern about hurting the Orioles, who claim to draw many fans from D.C.'s Maryland suburbs.
The District has yet to pass legislation to enact its own stadium financing plan. And Selig and several owners are concerned about Angelos's reaction if baseball tries to force him to accept a team in Washington.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who briefly attended yesterday's meeting, said the District has backing among some in baseball, but he said league officials are still looking at Northern Virginia in hopes of avoiding a confrontation with Angelos.
"What you've heard around is there's a lot of support there [for D.C.]," Williams said. "But at the highest levels, there's still resistance to coming here. They're still looking for a way not to be here, because of the obvious reasons."
Baseball President Robert A. DuPuy said yesterday that baseball is looking at the implications on the Orioles as it evaluates where to move the team. "I do not think that anyone at baseball should have to apologize for attempting to ensure that wherever the Expos end up, it will be a situation that results in the long-term viability of the franchise," DuPuy said in an e-mail. "Nor is it incorrect to be concerned about the impact the location of a relocated team will have on any of the other franchises in Major League Baseball. To not be concerned would be naive and shortsighted."
Northern Virginia's chances received a setback two weeks ago when one of the state's top elected officials said Virginia legislators would be reluctant to endorse the bond financing package for a Loudoun County baseball stadium. Stadium bonds would be difficult, if not impossible, to sell if Virginia did not place the state's "moral obligation" behind them, according to financial experts.
Staff writer Lori Montgomery and the Associated Press contributed to this report.