Informal overtures by Major League Baseball officials toward Peter G. Angelos over a deal to bring the Montreal Expos to Washington have gone nowhere, a baseball official familiar with the discussions said yesterday, setting the stage for a showdown in Milwaukee today between the league and the Baltimore Orioles' owner.
Baseball's relocation committee, which has been seeking to find a home for the Expos, is leaning toward recommending that the Montreal franchise be moved to Washington and will make a report at today's meeting of the league's Executive Council, baseball sources said. Angelos, who sits on the eight-member council, has insisted that he would fight any attempt to move the Expos to the District, saying it would financially damage the Orioles and hinder their ability to compete.
The baseball official familiar with the issue said Angelos has been unyielding in what the official described as informal discussions about possible compensation for the Orioles owner if he agrees to an Expos move to the District.
"What is happening is that Major League Baseball is talking to him about trying to find some financial way to help the Baltimore Orioles through this, and he is saying 'no.' He is saying, 'Hell no,' " the official said. "He does not want a franchise in Washington."
The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions, said it was unclear what strategy Angelos would take should baseball defy his wishes. "He doesn't know what he's going to do," the official said.
Angelos has said the Baltimore-Washington area is not large enough to support two franchises and that a team in Washington would be financially untenable for both franchises.
Legal experts said the Orioles' owner could face a tough time in court trying to block the action and that a far more likely scenario is a brokered agreement whereby the Orioles are compensated tens of millions of dollars for the arrival of another team in the area.
"At the end of the day, I don't see any legal theory that [Angelos] could use successfully" to block the Expos' arrival, said Gary R. Roberts, director of the sports law program at Tulane University Law School.
That certainly isn't to say that Angelos couldn't try.
A trial lawyer who made a fortune handling asbestos cases, Angelos has never shied from using the courts to advance his business interests. In recent days, those close to him have said he is mulling his legal options.
To keep the Expos from coming to Washington, Angelos would have to convince a court that the contractual relationship between baseball and its owners is broader than has been commonly understood, legal experts said.
The Major League Constitution defines the Orioles' "operating territory" as the city of Baltimore and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll and Harford counties in Maryland. A team could be chartered in the District with no infringement upon that geographic territory.
The Orioles have in recent years argued that the team's home territory should not be defined so narrowly, however, particularly in the age of cable television contracts.
Angelos, who declined to be interviewed for this story, recently told The Washington Post that putting another franchise so close to the Orioles would cut into his team's fan base, particularly in Washington's Maryland suburbs, and siphon off more than half of the Orioles' television revenue.
The team's games are televised far beyond its operating territory: 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.
Alan M. Rifkin, a lawyer for the Orioles, declined to comment for this story. But in a recent letter to the editor in the Baltimore Sun, he argued that the Expos' arrival would be harmful to the Orioles because "baseball is heavily dependent on local revenues," of which television and cable rights are the most important.
"While two professional football teams can coexist in the same market because of the heavy stream of national revenues, the same cannot be said about two professional baseball teams competing for the same essential local revenues," Rifkin wrote.
Rifkin also noted that the Orioles pay $8 million annually to the state in rent, plus a city-state admissions tax of 10 percent on every ticket sold that has generated more than $50 million since 1992.
Baseball's 29 owners, who collectively purchased the Expos in 2002, have been weighing moving the team and selling it to new owners. Some legal experts suggested that Angelos might argue that his franchise would be disproportionately affected by the sale.
But "those are more moral kind of arguments than legal arguments," said Roger I. Abrams, an expert on sports law at Northeastern University School of Law.
Clark C. Griffith, a Minneapolis antitrust lawyer and former Minnesota Twins executive, whose father moved the team from Washington in 1960, said he would be "absolutely astonished" if Major League Baseball moved the Expos without first crafting an amicable arrangement that "deals with everyone who can potentially sue," including Angelos.
If that is not the case, Griffith said, he could envision a scenario where Angelos seeks an injunction, likely from a court in Baltimore, claiming he would suffer a substantial loss of television revenue and other income.
Baseball's antitrust exemption gives the owners explicit authority to control team expansions, locations and relocations without being prosecuted or investigated for anti-competitive behavior.
Angelos could not challenge the Expos' move on that basis, said Roberts, the Tulane professor. In fact, keeping the Expos from Washington would raise questions about the wisdom of the game's antitrust exemption, he said.
Fainaru reported from Baghdad.