- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 6, 2004

Peter Angelos will sit in his office high above the streets of Baltimore and let the smallest deal remain on his desk for weeks. This has traditionally driven baseball people crazy, because the nature of the business sometimes requires quick decisions. Several times, good deals appeared to pass the Baltimore Orioles owner by because of his hesitancy.

But sometimes, as Angelos knows, stuff happens. Things change, and if a person waits long enough, things can change in his favor — particularly when he has a deal involving people who have a difficult time negotiating parking tickets, let alone multi-million-dollar ballpark deals for a competing franchise down the road.

Sometimes, unpredictability can be a real cool hand.

It’s the hand Angelos has been playing in the negotiations with Major League Baseball for a payoff to move the Montreal Expos to Washington, and D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp dealt Angelos a pair of aces yesterday when she introduced an entirely new ballpark deal and threatened to walk away from the proposed Anacostia waterfront ballpark that put the District over the top in the quest to land the Expos.

Cropp wants a ballpark built next to RFK Stadium. MLB already has seen that deal and was less than enthused with it.

Where did a fully funded ballpark on RFK land put the District back when this was a horse race? Even with Northern Virginia’s two-thirds funded ballpark way out near Dulles Airport. That was before Virginia Gov. Mark Warner bailed out of his moral obligation backing the state’s bond funding for the ballpark. Warner’s decision, coupled with the District’s new fully funded Southeast ballpark proposal, sealed the deal for baseball in Washington — a deal now in danger of falling apart.

“This is a better deal for the District of Columbia and for the citizens, while at the same time holding open our hands and opening our arms and raising our bats because we’re ready to play baseball and provide a stadium,” Cropp said at a press conference.

This is a better deal, all right — for Peter Angelos — and not because of the location. If anything, the closer proximity to Baltimore makes it less palatable for him, but it ultimately throws baseball in Washington into chaos, and that is a better deal for Angelos.

“The dream of having baseball back in Washington is at risk,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams said at a press conference following Cropp’s announcement. “It is in jeopardy.”

Actually, it may be in Montreal again next year.

Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission who worked with Chicago White Sox owner and baseball relocation committee member Jerry Reinsdorf, was adamant several months ago there will be no ballpark built next to RFK Stadium. He knows the business community will not be willing to pay any additional taxes for a ballpark that will give them no bump whatsoever — a ballpark where people will come, watch baseball and then leave with their money in their pockets. You won’t see any Bennigan’s going up around the RFK property.

The Southeast property might not create the sort of economic growth Washington officials are hoping for either, but at least it has the perception of potential. RFK has been there for 43 years, with baseball, football, soccer, rock concerts and auto races, and there hasn’t been a whiff of money surrounding the facility — even with a Metro stop close by.

If Williams is distressed, imagine what is happening at MLB’s New York offices. Cadillac Bud Selig and his merry band have no one to blame but themselves for this mess by forcing the issue into such a tight timetable. The options are now either RFK next year or back to Montreal until baseball decides if it can still unload the franchise or should hold onto it for contraction two years from now. Angelos is doing all he can to push contraction.

It doesn’t appear Northern Virginia is even an option anymore. The District has until Dec.31 to get this deal done, which is the same date the state funding legislation in Virginia runs out. There is no will to go back and renew that legislation.

Ironically, it was Virginia’s deadline that forced baseball to finally move on the Expos, and they have done so under such tight time constraints it now has few options if the Washington deal falls apart.

So much had to go right for this to all come together. All Angelos had to do is sit back while baseball tried to get him to sign off on a payoff deal and wait for something to go wrong. Now something has gone very wrong.

Just call him Cool Hand Peter.

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