-- Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said Friday he would prefer for the new owners of Washington's franchise to select the team's name, and while baseball appears ready to launch the sale process immediately, time constraints still might force the league to choose a name before the sale is complete.
"In a perfect world, the new owners should pick the name of the team," Selig said. "But there is a point where we have to have a name. So let's see how it works out. We're discussing that now, but these are the first conversations we're having about it."
A high-ranking league source said Friday that baseball would begin the process of choosing an owner immediately, despite the fact that the D.C. Council has yet to approve the city's proposed $440 million stadium financing package. City leaders, who presented the plan to the council Friday, believe the funding won't be approved until sometime in November.
The source said the league will soon set up a room, probably at Major League Baseball's Park Avenue headquarters, where prospective buyers can review the Montreal Expos' financial data. After would-be buyers have reviewed the information, baseball will ask them to submit bids for the team. Most bidding processes occur in tiered stages, with the list of candidates being narrowed to just two or three finalists. Baseball is hoping to finish the sale process by the end of the year and collect more than $300 million for the Expos.
The league's 29 owners purchased the Expos for $120 million in February 2002 from Jeffrey Loria, now the owner of the Florida Marlins. The Expos have lost millions in recent years and baseball is eager to sell the team as quickly as possible.
Selig did not say when the drop-dead date for naming the team would be, but when asked if the name must be in place before spring training next February, he said: "Oh, God, yes. Well before that."
If the league does choose the name, Selig offered some insight into his preference:
"I'm a traditionalist and a history buff, as everyone knows, and I came up [during the era of] the Washington Senators -- or the Nats, as they used to call them in those days," Selig said. "But, look, everyone knows their own area best. And they have to pick a name that is the most reflective of the market they're in."
Selig's comments came during an hour-long interview at his Milwaukee office, two days after he officially announced the Expos' impending relocation to the District.
The expedited selection of Washington as the Expos' new home -- the decision had to be made this week to meet a key legislative deadline for Mayor Anthony A. Williams's stadium plan -- left Selig unable to answer many questions about the logistics of the sale of the Expos, which MLB has owned for the last three years.
Among the unanswered questions posed to Selig: What is baseball's target sale price for the franchise? And will the league use an investment banking firm to assist in selling the team?
"Groups are going to surface," Selig said. "I want it to be like the site selection was -- a very fair process. We don't have a target sale price."
Asked about the perception that the local group headed by Fred Malek -- a former minority investor in the Texas Rangers under then-owner George W. Bush -- is Selig's preferred group, he said: "There are no favorites. Every group coming in should have the understanding they will be treated fairly. And if you have a favored group, everyone is not being treated fairly."
Selig also declined to speculate about a worst-case scenario, in which the stadium deal fails to gain approval.
"I'm an optimist," he said. "All the people involved down there, they've worked so hard. They believe they can get it done, and if they believe they can get it done, I believe they can get it done. After 33 years [without baseball], I would be stunned if they couldn't."
Selig did not put a targeted timetable on the sale of the team. However, there is no guarantee it can be completed by Opening Day (April 4), let alone by the opening of spring training camps in mid-February.
Selig and MLB President Robert DuPuy are still working out final details of the compensation package for Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, which likely will include a mechanism for guaranteeing certain revenue levels for the Orioles, as well as a guaranteed sale price and a 60 percent share of a proposed regional cable channel that would show both Orioles and Washington games.
"I want equity out of all sides here," Selig said. "I feel very sensitive about that. I want to bend over backwards to be fair [to Angelos] because it's the right thing to do."
Asked if he ever told Angelos he would not put a team in Washington against Angelos's will, Selig said: "What I said at the time was that I didn't want him to get hurt. There's a huge difference."
Expos Note: Washington Baseball Club, one of the groups of businessmen interested in buying the Expos, reported it has received more than 5,000 e-mail inquiries about tickets in the past two days.
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report from Washington.