- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

Baseball’s relocation committee did not make any formal recommendation yesterday in Milwaukee after a three-hour meeting of the major league owners’ executive council about the relocation of the Montreal Expos.

They didn’t jump up and down and rave about the fully financed ballpark the District is proposing to build on the Anacostia waterfront.

They didn’t say, “What a deal! We can’t pass this up.”

They didn’t say that Godfather Jack Evans made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

No, the committee just presented the facts. Just the facts.

Major League Baseball president and CEO Bob DuPuy said MLB is still studying details of the various offers, that all suitors for the Expos remain under consideration and that it still hopes to make a decision about the beleaguered franchise by the time the season ends Oct.3.

In Monterrey, Mexico, I’m sure that was welcome — and surprising — news. In the District, it was maddening.

Here’s the two most important facts anyone needs to know about the decision facing baseball:

1. The District bid isn’t going to get any better a week from now. As someone close to the Northern Virginia group even conceded, “How much better can it get than that?”

2. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos isn’t going back down any more a week from now.

So much for all the promises made to District officials that Angelos would not be among the deciding factors in selecting a home for the Expos and that a decision would be based on the merits of the offers.

There is no offer that has more merit than the District bid, nor will there be a week from now. So that was a lie. Angelos has been the only issue to deal with in the past, present and the future.

“Peter Angelos has made his views known with regard to the effect that he believes a team in the D.C. area will have on the Baltimore Orioles, and he articulated those views,” DuPuy said. “Mr. Angelos’ concerns, which are shared by the commissioner and have all along, have always been a serious issue.”

Which keeps the supposedly dead and buried Northern Virginia bid, alive, even if it is slightly zombified.

Gov. Mark Warner has taken over the negotiations with baseball for Virginia’s bid. Two days before yesterday’s meeting, he was on the phone with baseball officials making sure that while he will not favor the moral obligation bonds sought by baseball to finance a ballpark there — which, unlike the District bid, is only two-thirds publicly financed — he is fully behind the effort to land a team and offered up an alternative financing proposal.

The offer wasn’t exactly embraced by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Cadillac Bud Selig’s point man on the relocation committee. (It’s a miracle that Angelos left Milwaukee alive after the beating he took from Reinsdorf in that meeting yesterday, isn’t it? I guess Jerry didn’t exactly deliver the muscle that some people expected, did he?) But now Cadillac Bud himself is taking over, which was the wild card that the Virginia people were counting on.

It still may not result in a winning hand, but they are still in the game, and their only hope now is that their bid becomes a bargaining chip in the delicate negotiations with Angelos.

Neil Pilson, former CBS television sports president and now a consultant to baseball, attended yesterday’s meeting at Cadillac Bud’s office, presumably to make baseball’s case to Angelos that the losses he is expecting in television revenue from a competing team in the Washington area could be eased and even negated by a proposed regional sports network.

But while television revenue always has been a primary concern, attendance is a factor as well. After all, when teams tout their success, they don’t publish television ratings. They give attendance figures, and when you have lost more than 1million fans over the past six years through nothing but self-inflicted actions, attendance is a concern.

So what happens if, when Cadillac Bud and Angelos are working out the details of the Angelos appeasement — and make no mistake about it, he will have to be appeased; think what you will about Angelos, he is a very tough guy who will become more intractable the more he is put into a corner — the Baltimore lawyer says to Cadillac Bud, “Now what are you going to do about all those fans in Montgomery and Prince George’s County?”

“What would you like me to do, Peter?” Cadillac Bud asks.

“Put a river between them and this team, and we can close the deal,” Angelos says.

Then Cadillac Bud has to decide between the merits of the District bid and closing a deal. What would any good car salesman do?

Most observers would have you believe this scenario is a fairy tale, and that very well may be. But we are in Alice in Wonderland country here, where a fairy tale makes sense.

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