Area Baseball Fans See Best Shot at a Team; but Problems Remain as July 15 Deadline Looms for Expos Franchise

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Area Baseball Fans See Best Shot at a Team; but Problems Remain as July 15 Deadline Looms for Expos Franchise


Byline: Eric Fisher, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Charlie Brotman knows a few things about the District's 32-year quest to bring Major League Baseball back to the city.

There was the time in late 1973 the San Diego Padres almost moved to town. There were the pushes to get an expansion team in 1976, 1987, 1991 and 1995. There was the nearly finished deal, also in 1995, that would have relocated the Houston Astros to Northern Virginia.

Most recently, there were the bids last year from groups in the District and Northern Virginia to buy the orphaned Montreal Expos.

Mr. Brotman was there each time, serving on a steering committee, formally promoting the city's efforts, or simply talking up the District's passion for baseball.

This time, he insists, is different. Much different.

"This is the closest I think we've ever come to attracting a real, live team," said Mr. Brotman, a public relations executive who served as a public address announcer for the Washington Senators in the late 1950s and 1960s. "It seems like we've been teased a hundred times, and the mere mention of [a team moving to] Washington has helped build more than a half-dozen new parks elsewhere.

"But there are people here who have absolutely refused to let this dream die, and I think we're finally on the cusp."

Perhaps. A relocation committee formed by Major League Baseball (MLB) is expected to deliver its recommendation on the future of the Expos by July 15, completing a nine-month formal review of the franchise's options.

Baseball's stated goal is to find a permanent home for the Expos, who are now owned by MLB, for the 2004 season. The three primary candidates to get the team are the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore.

The decision, however, comes with more questions than it proposes to answer:

*Is baseball really ready to settle the long-running feud between D.C. baseball boosters and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos?

*If the committee's recommendation is for the Expos to split time between Quebec and Puerto Rico, as the team is doing this season, can baseball sustain the relocation push for yet another year?

*And, most bluntly, is the District's long, arduous wait for baseball truly coming to an end?

"I just don't know," said Pat Malone, president of the Washington Senators fan club. "I've been involved in this effort for 25 years, and I've seen people come and people go. But Major League Baseball is still in a state of flux, and I have a gut feeling they're going to hold off again."

A long road

It has taken baseball literally a generation to prepare itself to move a team.

For many years, MLB's leadership, particularly Commissioner Bud Selig, openly opposed any relocations. Such moves were the province of "lesser" leagues such as the NFL and NBA, each of which allowed teams to relocate during the 1990s.

In baseball, tradition reigned - until the economic plight of the Expos became simply too great to ignore.

Once a solid, if second-tier, franchise, the Expos slipped into oblivion after the players' strike of 1994-95 cut short the club's best and last chance to win a National League pennant. Fans stopped coming to games, ownership refused to keep star players under contract and losses mounted both on and off the field.

By 1999, the Expos easily ranked last in baseball in attendance and local revenue.

In July 2000, a blue-ribbon panel appointed by Mr. Selig to study baseball's economics suggested moving some teams as a measure to help ailing franchises. Mr. Selig, as a result, reconsidered his opposition to relocation.

However, two years of labor warfare, during which the owners proposed and dropped the idea of eliminating two teams, pushed relocation to the back burner.

Once labor peace was secured last summer, Mr. Selig formed the relocation committee to handle the still-unresolved Expos situation - the first organized program to settle the issue. …

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