Baseball Hall of Fame great Reggie Jackson appears interested in assembling a group of investors to bid on the major league team scheduled to play in Washington beginning next season.
Major League Baseball plans to sell the Montreal Expos and the club is to play at RFK Stadium while a proposed new stadium is under construction in the District. Jackson, who works for the New York Yankees as a special adviser, has lined up at least one significant investor and has tried to interest other prospective investors in joining his group, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.
Jackson has attempted to interest Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder in joining his group but Snyder has not demonstrated interest, according to sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because Jackson has not declared his intentions publicly.
Before the Yankees played the Boston Red Sox this week at Yankee Stadium in the American League Championship Series, Jackson declined to comment when asked about his possible attempt to acquire the Washington franchise.
"In the position I'm in, it's not the time to talk about it," Jackson said. "We have a pennant to win."
Meantime, members of the Expos' front office met yesterday with officials from the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, then toured RFK Stadium.
Expos President Tony Tavares said the two groups discussed the improvements needed to get the stadium ready for games next season and the timetable by which each needs to be completed.
"They haven't played baseball there since 1971," he said. "We need to change it from a soccer pitch to a baseball field with foul poles and backstops. We need to get the locker rooms baseball-ready."
The Expos' move to Washington is contingent on the city promising to build a $440 million stadium within three years. The D.C. Council is considering the plan offered by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to use public funds for the construction.
Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), who has expressed opposition to the mayor's plan, said the fact that Tavares and other Expos officials are in town shows that the team will move here no matter what. Therefore, Fenty said, the District should use its leverage to get a better deal on the stadium.
"The Expos are doing a lot of things that show they don't have an option of going anywhere else," he said. "That's the big fear of my colleagues. . . . They don't want to be the one to drive baseball away. But if they're not going anywhere, I think people will give this a closer look. The mayor's proposal will get a lot more scrutiny if people think the Expos don't have another option."
Tavares declined to get involved in the politics. His top assistant, Kevin Uhlich, said that the two are here "with a mission to move the team here. A promise was made by baseball to have a team here in April. That's our focus. As far as anything else on the political front, we're not concerned with that."
MLB will operate the club until it can be sold. A top executive from one major league team said this week that he had no direct knowledge of Jackson's efforts to assemble a potential ownership group for the D.C. franchise but such an attempt "wouldn't surprise me at all" because Jackson has tried to put together bids for other major league clubs, including the Anaheim Angels. The Angels were sold from the Walt Disney Co. to Phoenix businessman Arturo Moreno last year for a reported $180 million.
The executive said he did not know whether Jackson had investors with the means to make a successful bid for a team.
A Major League Baseball spokesman said he had no knowledge of Jackson's attempt to assemble an investment group, and Commissioner Bud Selig did not return a telephone message on the subject. A source said Jackson had gone so far as to conduct a site survey of the proposed location for the District's $440 million publicly financed ballpark on the Anacostia waterfront.
Jackson, 58, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993 after a 21-year playing career for the Kansas City and Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Yankees and California Angels during which he hit 563 home runs and earned the nickname "Mr. October" for his postseason exploits. He hit 10 homers in 27 career World Series games and was the American League most valuable player in 1973.
A baseball official said this week the process by which the Expos will be sold has not yet been put officially in motion. But baseball reportedly hopes to sell the team by the end of the year and collect more than $300 million for it. The other 29 major league owners purchased the Expos in 2002 from Jeffrey Loria and his partners for $120 million.
A Washington group headed by Fred Malek is thought to be a top contender to buy the franchise.
Snyder once was interested in making a bid for a Washington baseball team with Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson, now the owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. But Snyder and Johnson abandoned their bid and Snyder has not expressed interest in resuming pursuit of a baseball team, sources said.
Staff writers David Nakamura and Lori Montgomery contributed to this report from Washington, Jorge Arangure Jr. from New York, and Dave Sheinin from Atlanta.