Area Groups Might Sue If Baseball Folds Teams

Article excerpt

Byline: Eric Fisher

Washington's fruitless 30-year pursuit to replace the twice-departed Senators is getting some additional teeth.

Both of the area's groups seeking to bring in a baseball team have expressed to Major League Baseball in recent weeks their growing frustration over their long wait, according to several high-ranking industry sources. And they may join or start lawsuits against baseball if the league opts to contract some teams instead of relocating one to greater Washington. Additionally, congressional sources indicate several lawmakers again are mulling a review of the game's cherished antitrust exemption should folding clubs become reality.

Commissioner Bud Selig has considered for nearly a year shrinking the roster of franchises to address the game's fast-growing economic and competitive disparity, and talk of such a move again has picked up steam this month, in part fueled by Selig himself.

"[Contraction] is unquestionably today a viable option," Selig told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "We have a lot of very significant problems that a lot of people don't seem to understand, but they're there and they're going to need some really tough solutions."

The Montreal Expos, who drew just 7,648 fans a game this year, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays would be the most likely targets for contraction. The topic is expected to be addressed formally during owners meetings tentatively set for early next month in Chicago.

Representatives for William Collins, a Northern Virginia technology executive who leads a bidding group there, declined to comment directly on the potential of a lawsuit against baseball. District financier Fred Malek, who leads the other group, said he has no plans to pursue any legal action. But both met recently with Corey Busch, Selig's point man on relocation who is studying several potential markets for baseball. And according to several baseball insiders, the groups conveyed in plain, tough terms their desire for clarity on the game's plans for franchise management and a wish for baseball to steer away from contraction at all costs.

"As businessmen, we simply cannot comprehend why baseball would [consider contraction]," said Mike Scanlon, spokesman for the Collins-led Virginia Baseball Club.

Demographic studies indicate Washington is by far the largest and wealthiest U.S. city without a major league team, and independent studies estimate a local team easily would draw in excess of 35,000 fans a game - more than double the Expos, Marlins and Devil Rays.

"I've the seen the recent reports [about contraction]. …