Major League Baseball officials are expected to resume negotiations with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos this week in an attempt to reach an agreement that will open the door for baseball to move the Montreal Expos to Washington's RFK Stadium in time for Opening Day in April.
Baseball all but decided on Washington as the future home of the Expos at a meeting of the league's Executive Council in Milwaukee last week. Sources with intimate knowledge of the proceedings there said the District's bid to build the stadium overwhelmed the other competitors, which include Northern Virginia, Las Vegas, Norfolk, Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico.
If baseball is going to move the Expos to Washington next year, it must officially notify the D.C. City Council by Friday so lawmakers can pass before the end of the year the necessary financing legislation for a $400 million, publicly funded stadium. A new slate of lawmakers takes over in January, and some council members have expressed reservations about taxpayers footing the bill for a stadium for wealthy owners and players.
Baseball officials have said the deadline to announce a decision on the Expos is the end of the regular season, which is next Sunday. If a decision isn't made by then, it's likely baseball will wait until late October to announce the Expos' fate because it doesn't like to make announcements during the playoffs and World Series. But delaying a decision past this week would jeopardize the chances that stadium legislation would pass the D.C. City Council before the end of the year.
Before moving the team, Commissioner Bud Selig would need the approval of three-fourths of the league's 29 owners; the Expos presently are owned by MLB. Selig could hold a vote by conference call, which is usually preceded by 24 hours notice.
In addition to ensuring that the D.C. City Council passes the ballpark financing intact, MLB must also resolve Angelos's concerns that a Washington team would financially harm the Orioles as well as deal with a lawsuit by the Expos' former minority partners.
MLB President and Chief Operating Officer Robert A. DuPuy met with Angelos for several hours Friday in an attempt to get Angelos to agree to a compensation package that would offset any harm that a Washington team would cause the Orioles, according to sources. Those sources said Angelos did not retreat from his opposition to a Washington team, arguing that it would draw away fans, financially hobble his club and hinder its ability to compete on the field.
DuPuy and Angelos are both experienced negotiators, and baseball insiders who know both men said they were hopeful they would reach an agreement soon.
There is a chance that Angelos would take legal action if the league moves ahead without his acquiescence, and baseball is trying to head that off with a financial package that involves the creation of a regional sports network in which both the Orioles and the Washington team would participate. Sources said one possibility that has been proposed to Angelos is to weigh sports-network revenue toward the Orioles.
So far, Angelos has said he is not interested, according to sources.
In speaking against a D.C. team at last week's meeting with eight fellow owners at Selig's Milwaukee office, Angelos said a Washington team not only would harm the Orioles but also the city of Baltimore, which depends on the baseball team for tourism and commerce. The Orioles compete in the American League East Division against two of the wealthiest teams in the game: the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli offered one intriguing solution to the Expos issue: "Switch leagues," he said yesterday, suggesting that Baltimore join the National League and that the Washington team move to the American League.
"Milwaukee did it. It's something to think about," Mazzilli told the Associated Press. "There would be rivalries with the Phillies, Pirates, Giants. It's very intriguing."
That would mean the Orioles wouldn't play at home on a regular basis against the Yankees and Red Sox, who happen to be Baltimore's two biggest draws in addition to being the city's two biggest rivals.
Orioles Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson figures Washington will get a team, and believes Baltimore can cope with the competition by continuing its upward swing. The original Baltimore Orioles played in the National League from 1882 to 1899. The present franchise was the Milwaukee Brewers in 1901, moved to St. Louis the following year and became the Baltimore Orioles in 1954.
Angelos could not be reached to comment, but sources close to him said he favors keeping the Orioles in the American League.
Staff writer Jorge Arangure Jr. contributed to this report from Baltimore.