Delay by council surprises some GMs

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Several of the general managers meeting here were stunned the D.C. Council yesterday delayed a vote to approve the building of a ballpark on the Anacostia riverfront, as specified in Major League Baseball’s decision to move the Montreal Expos to the nation’s capital.

“They’re going to lose that team,” one official said privately.

Some baseball people say there is more riding on the city council vote than the return of the majors to Washington. The integrity of the industry and the legacy of commissioner Bud Selig also is at stake, they say.

“We’re going to look worse than the Arena Football League if this doesn’t get done,” one club official said.

Jim Bowden, the Washington club’s new general manager, has tried to separate baseball matters from the political infighting that is putting the franchise relocation at risk, but it is impossible to separate the two. As he returned from an outdoor luncheon overlooking Biscayne Bay, the first words out of Bowden’s mouth were, “What happened with the vote this morning?”

Despite the uncertainty caused by D.C. Council chairwoman Linda W. Cropp’s efforts first to have a stadium built on the grounds of RFK Stadium and then to limit the city’s spending at the Southeast site to $150 million, there is still much anticipation about what baseball will be like in Washington the third time around.

New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who went to high school and college in Washington, said he was glad to see baseball return to the District after 33 years.

“I’ve got friends down there, and they are passionate about the opportunity to have a team,” Cashman said. “The area has changed so much, and there is a real firm belief that without question it can support a franchise in the shadow of Baltimore.

“I have had a chance to work with [former Washington slugger] Frank Howard a few times in my career, and I know what he meant to baseball fans down there — the ‘Capital Punisher,’” Cashman said. “You want to see things hurry up — lights, camera, action. You want to see what Opening Day is like for them there. It’s a neat thing from afar.”

Cashman wondered whether baseball was the “talk of the town” in Washington. Told most of the recent talk has focused on D.C. Council politics, he replied, “What is going on up there?”

Bowden, who spent 10 years as GM of the Cincinnati Reds, is trying to ignore the talk and do his job of strengthening the transplanted Montreal Expos,. who finished 67-95 last season.

“I am going with the premise that [the franchise’s home] is Washington until someone tells me otherwise,” he said. “I have faith in the politicians, the business people, the baseball people, everyone involved that they are going to find a way to make this work so we are all happy because the franchise should be in Washington and should be in a place where you can maximize revenues so that everybody wins. Hopefully, at the end of the day, the better minds will prevail and we can accomplish that.”

Bowden certainly did his job yesterday, adding five players (pitchers Michael Hinckley, Darrell Rasner, Danny Rueckel and Josh Karp and first baseman Larry Broadway) to the 40-man roster and designating another for assignment (pitcher Roy Corcoran).

“We made some 40-man roster [changes] and designated one player for assignment to prepare for the Rule V draft [when other teams can draft eligible players not on a club’s 40-man roster],” Bowden said. “It was pretty easy to get a consensus on those guys that we needed to protect. There weren’t any players that were debatable.”

There is also little debate about the club’s principal needs, he said: a third baseman (the club has been in negotiations to retain free agent Tony Batista) and a shortstop, preferably someone who can bring run production to the middle of the lineup. Barry Larkin has expressed interest in reuniting with Bowden, his former GM with the Reds, according to MLB.com.

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