- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

Washington, D.C., struck out again.
There remains no baseball in the capital of the free world, the United States' seventh-largest metropolitan area and the wealthiest in per-capita income.
The area's chances of soon getting a team suffered a blow Tuesday when Major League Baseball, in a historic vote, decided to eliminate two teams likely the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins before the 2002 season instead of moving any clubs. That leaves Washington to wait and wonder when, if ever, it will get a team of its own.
The two groups bidding to bring a franchise to the area plan to maintain their lobbying efforts because baseball's economically endangered list also includes the Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Oakland Athletics. Senior officials with Major League Baseball also advised the groups not to criticize the plan to fold the franchises because relocation has not been ruled out entirely and the planned contraction already has angered the players union.
However, baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday that there "exists no prospective market that meets the desired requirements for fielding a stable, competitive and economically viable franchise for next season," a statement that left the bid groups' leaders puzzled and furiously plotting their next moves.
It is not clear whether Mr. Selig's comment referred only to the 2002 season. The bid groups, one in the District and and one in Northern Virginia, concede that a team playing next year in antiquated RFK Stadium while a new stadium is built would lose significant money, perhaps more than $30 million.
Mr. Selig said relocation remains an option and that he will be "sensitive to [the Washington areas] wishes as time goes on." The commissioner, however, refused to place any timetable on relocating a team and declined to elaborate on what are his plans for the Washington area. The bid groups interpret all this to mean that baseball in the Washington area as soon as 2003 remains a possibility.
"The viability comment means only next year and we take them at their word," said financier Fred Malek, leader of the District-based bidding group. "We remain absolutely convinced this is a viable market for baseball and that the sport can and will succeed here."
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's vote in Chicago, the local lobbying efforts for baseball gained significant teeth.
Both groups conveyed in strong terms to baseball the economic and symbolic opportunities a local team could provide. The Northern Virginia group, led by telecommunications executive William Collins, mulled its legal options, as did Capitol Hill with baseball's antitrust exemption. Five Virginia lawmakers proposed turning a Northern Virginia stadium into a national landmark ballpark dedicated to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
For now, the bid groups wait in an atmosphere of uncertainty and speculation. One rumor has current Marlins owner John Henry seeking to move his club to Washington. Another has Expos owner Jeffrey Loria taking over the Marlins and perhaps moving the club to Washington. That would free Mr. Henry to buy the Anaheim Angels from Walt Disney Co.
The contraction is not certain and is fraught with complications. The Major League Baseball players union, already in tense labor negotiations with baseball, strongly objected to the plan. Several parties in Minnesota threatened lawsuits. The minor league affiliates of the two franchises are in limbo.
One thing is certain: Washington, as it has been since the second Senators franchise left 30 years ago for Texas, is baseball's ultimate stalking horse.
Washington is now a pawn in baseball's grand economic dance that includes all of the troubled franchises, labor negotiations with the players union toward a new collective bargaining agreement, and the sport's long-term future.
"History will ultimately show that this contraction vote was simply step one of a master plan," said Marc Ganis, a Chicago sports consultant who has worked with several Major League Baseball teams. "Relocation could certainly be part of the plan. But step one in baseball's minds was clearly to take away the two sickest franchises and get healthier."

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