- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2000

Washington's long pursuit of a major league baseball team, looking in recent months as bleak as it has ever been, has gained a glimmer of hope.

The recent dissolution of the American and National League offices, along with their separate bylaws, have opened an avenue that eventually could bring an AL team to Washington.

Previously, Washington's pursuit of a team has centered on the NL because Orioles owner Peter Angelos held the power to single-handedly veto the move of any AL team within 100 miles of Baltimore. The two leagues are now one entity within Major League Baseball, and their separate bylaws have been replaced by a single MLB constitution, with the exception of ongoing labor negotiations with umpires.

As a result, any franchise move now requires only three-fourths approval of MLB owners.

"A decision of this magnitude, should it ever arise, is a very important one that would need to be fully vetted by the commissioner and all the clubs and stakeholders," said Robert DuPuy, MLB executive vice president of administration.

Fred Malek, a District investment bank executive who formed a bidding group last summer, said the move opens up a number of new possibilities for the Washington area. The Montreal Expos, for years the prime object of Washington's desire, finally were sold last fall to New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria. Although many of Loria's projects, including a new stadium and renegotiated media contracts, remain far from completion, it is unlikely he would resell so quickly.

"The teams now seen to be doing the least well are AL teams," Malek said. "This removes one possible barrier."

The Kansas City Royals are for sale, while the Minnesota Twins, also financially struggling, continue a so-far fruitless search to replace the Metrodome.

Malek, however, stressed that he is not currently bidding for any team. Virginia Baseball, a much older group led by telecommunications executive William Collins, also is not negotiating with any teams.

Commissioner Bud Selig remains highly disposed against any franchise moves, and no expansion is currently planned.

"Unless a team is up for sale, there's not much we can do," said Mike Scanlon, spokesman for Virginia Baseball, the Collins-led group. "There's nothing for us to market. The situation has been laid out. When a team comes up for sale, we will absolutely be there."

Although having two AL teams in the same market would be less than ideal, it could be only a temporary situation. Baseball insiders expect some kind of significant realignment within two years, perhaps even as soon as 2001. Under a plan now being considered by MLB officials, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays would switch leagues, and the National League would be split into four divisions.

Angelos was not available for comment.

Malek seeks to locate a team in the District, either on the property where RFK Stadium sits or at Mount Vernon Square in Northwest. Collins wants a team in Northern Virginia but has not selected a proposed stadium site.

Malek and Scanlon both said they are willing to wait several more years if necessary to bid on a team.

"The only limit right now is our own patience," Malek said. "We're willing to be patient for a few more years. The Expos situation hasn't cooled our fervor. It's just forced us to be more patient."

The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, also heavily involved in the pursuit for a Washington-area team, similarly is in for the long haul.

"Our resolve is still there, you better believe it," said Gabe Paul, executive director of the Stadium Authority. "We're not sitting there anymore looking at one city [Montreal]. But we are still awaiting some kind of word from Major League Baseball."

Despite the good intentions, however, action has been minimal lately from the bidding groups. The stadium authority recently advised on several bills now under consideration by the Virginia legislature that would change slightly how state bond funds would help pay for a new stadium. But there has been no pressing lately by any of the groups.

"We've kind of been in our offseason, too," Malek said.

The stadium authority recently commissioned a study by George Mason University to assess the impact of a team in Washington. While this is the latest in a very long line of such studies, Paul insists it will be different.

"This one is being done by an economist, not an accountant," he said. "We want it to be totally independent, a real objective look at exactly what a team can do for this area."

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