- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Before baseball commissioner Bud Selig met with owners in Chicago yesterday to talk about contracting franchises and the upcoming labor negotiations, he had a conversation with a former owner who has a particular interest in the future of baseball in the Washington-Northern Virginia area President George W. Bush.
President Bush spoke with Selig recently about the possibility of baseball relocating one of its troubled franchises to the Washington-Northern Virginia area, baseball sources said. Selig told President Bush that two baseball teams likely would be contracted by owners but that relocation was still "under consideration," the sources said.
Selig told reporters pretty much the same thing yesterday after the owners voted to authorize him to contract two franchises without identifying which ones and said relocation may still be a solution to the problems of other teams in the future.
But the interest by President Bush a former owner of the Texas Rangers coupled with the letter written several weeks ago by members of Virginia's congressional delegation urging Selig to relocate a franchise to Northern Virginia in light of the economic impact after the September 11 attack on the Pentagon, indicates the political pressure Major League Baseball is facing from the region in the quest to return baseball to the area. That pressure could put baseball's precious antitrust exemption in danger.
"I didn't say that relocation in the future wouldn't be a solution to a franchise's problems," Selig said. "It may. … The Washington-Northern Virginia area has been very aggressive in pursuing a club, and we will be very sensitive to their wishes as time goes on."
Both of the groups seeking a team for the area have political connections all the way to the White House. William Collins, head of Virginia Baseball, is well connected in the Republican Party, and Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is chairman of the Republican National Committee. Mark Warner, the projected winner in yesterday's gubernatorial election, used to be an investor in the Collins group. Fred Malek, who heads the group seeking a franchise for the District, was partners with George W. Bush in the ownership of the Texas Rangers and was former President Bush's campaign manager in 1992. The D.C. effort also has the backing of Mayor Anthony Williams.
Both groups tried to put a positive spin on the announcement yesterday. They pointed out Selig did not close the door on relocation and, while two franchises may be contracted most likely the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins there are several others in financial trouble with uncertain futures, such as the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
In fact, among the many scenarios about franchise contraction and relocation, one that has gained steam recently is the Marlins' relocation to the Washington-Northern Virginia area.
Marlins owner John Henry declined to comment on that yesterday, and nothing like that came out of yesterday's owners meeting. Collins, who has been trying to bring a team to Northern Virginia for six years, said he was disappointed that baseball failed to tie relocation with contraction.
"It was such a huge opportunity for Major League Baseball to couple this whole situation of contraction, which is negative for baseball, with something positive like the relocation of the national pastime to the National Capital area," Collins said. "We thought those two things could go hand in hand and be viewed very positively."
Collins said he will continue his efforts to land a franchise for Northern Virginia, though he talked about the bad feelings that surfaced last month when Corey Busch, Selig's representative studying relocation, met with his group and local officials last month.
"I'm sure there are some people in our group who will be very upset," he said. "They had expressed in no uncertain terms to Corey Busch negativity regarding the concept of contraction without relocation. It doesn't affect my resolve, at least not today."
Malek said he doesn't believe yesterday's announcement is a done deal for contraction, nor does it mean a team won't be relocated to the Washington-Northern Virginia area.
"Voting to contract doesn't mean you will contract," he said. "They still face a serious number of hurdles, starting with negotiations with the involved owners, then negotiations with the municipalities involved and most importantly with the players union. If they start down that path and don't succeed, they put themselves in a position where relocation might be a more logical alternative. If they do contract, there are more than two teams that have economic challenges.
"We still believe we have the best market and will continue to work for a team," Malek said.
Gabe Paul, executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, also said there are other teams that baseball for which baseball will need to make decisions.
"[Selig] did discuss relocation in the future, which is what we had been led to believe," Paul said. "The fact that there are more than two teams with significant financial problems opens the gate for potential relocation."


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