Major League Baseball owners on Thursday delayed a vote to approve the Montreal Expos' move to Washington, as senior baseball officials stepped up talks with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to win his support for relocating the franchise.
Owners and baseball officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said the Expos' relocation was not at risk and that they still viewed the owners' vote as a mere technicality. But the postponement of the vote underscored how Angelos's unhappiness with the Expos' move into the Washington market remains a festering issue that baseball officials would like to resolve before asking for the formal endorsement of all 29 league owners.
"There are a myriad of issues still in play, so no vote was taken," Commissioner Bud Selig said after a two-hour owners' meeting. "But there will be a vote taken again in the very near future. There were enough issues that we really weren't ready for it today."
Selig easily has the three-quarters majority of owners needed for passage, baseball sources said, and the league is proceeding as if the team's arrival in Washington for Opening Day next April is a done deal. "We fully expect to play in RFK [Stadium] next year," MLB President Robert DuPuy said.
Selig declined to detail the problems that interrupted the vote, but he said the D.C. Council's failure to ratify a financial package for a publicly built stadium is not standing in the way. D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) has expressed concerns about the stadium financing package and last week delayed the council's vote on the legislation. She has set a new date for a first vote for Nov. 30, and a final vote could come Dec. 14.
In an interview Thursday, Cropp said: "Baseball not voting today doesn't frighten me at all. . . . Does anyone think about the fact that we have a deal with baseball in which they say we have until December 31? I'm not going to be pressured or rushed into something that's against the best interests of the citizens and the businesses of the District. We're well within the timeline."
DuPuy said that under its agreement with the District, baseball must approve the relocation of the Expos by Dec. 6. Selig can call a vote on a conference call on less than one day's notice. "The vote will occur," DuPuy said.
Angelos did not attend the owners meeting, but instead held separate talks here with baseball officials over a financial package designed to offset the effects of a team moving into what in recent years has been the Orioles' market. Angelos opposes a team in Washington on the grounds that it would financially impair his franchise and make it more difficult for the team to compete. The two sides have held intensive discussions over the issue for the last several days.
Baseball has been concerned that Angelos may take legal action to block the relocation if the league votes to move the Expos before they have a deal. Reached by phone Thursday evening, Angelos said, "I have no comment."
Angelos wants baseball to guarantee him three things: that the Orioles will not lose value because of competition from a Washington team; that the team's local revenues will be protected; and that the Orioles' television rights throughout the Baltimore-Washington region will not be impaired.
The league has assured Angelos that his franchise would sell for no less than $365 million should he decide to put it on the market, with baseball making up the difference. Angelos also wants the league to guarantee him a certain amount of local revenue each season, believed to be about $125 million. But baseball has been reluctant to make such a commitment.
The two sides have also failed to reach agreement on how much Angelos would earn from a proposed joint, regional sports network with the Washington team. One proposal would have the Orioles owning 60 percent of the network, but those discussions have not been finalized.
Selig declined to comment on the Angelos negotiations. "That's an issue that we'll keep between the Baltimore club and us," Selig said
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), meanwhile, spent most of the day in Little Rock, where he attended the dedication ceremonies for former president Bill Clinton's library.
Williams's spokesman, Chris Bender, said that baseball's delay showed that city leaders must move quickly to ratify a stadium financing package. "It is a good reminder to everybody in the process that this whole thing is not done," Bender said. "We need to vote, get it done, keep the commitment we made and sew up the deal we started. The executive branch has moved as fast as we can, but it's up to the council now. . . . People just want a resolution, from the residents to city council people. It's time to move."
Expos President Tony Tavares said he was not bothered by the delay in the owners' vote. "The commissioner obviously has his reasons for not doing it," said Tavares, who has been running the Expos since baseball purchased the team for $120 million in February 2002. "I'm not sure what they are. They were not shared with me. But it's not frustrating. I am not concerned about it. It's not going to slow us down."
Staff writers Barry Svrluga and David Nakamura in Washington contributed to this report.