- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

If you want baseball in Washington, you might be faced with this moral dilemma:

There are no good guys on either side of the labor battle that has consumed baseball for 30 years now and threatens its future again with yet another work stoppage before the end of the season. Let's face it, everyone is a weasel, owners and players alike.

But it seems that the players incite much of the anger and hostility that fans have toward the game. Hey, the owners are bosses, rich guys who own businesses and corporations, and we expect no less from bosses than greed.

The players, though, play a game that many of us grew up playing and we think we would play for meal money if we could. So when players who make $10million a year leave town for more money, it drives fans crazy. When players who make $15million a year don't hustle, it infuriates fans. When players make $25million a year, period, it seems like a crime. So when the union that represents these multimillionaires cries and complains about labor negotiations, it seems almost Enron-like in its greed.

If you want baseball in Washington, though, the Major League Baseball Players Association is your friend. As painful as it may be, it is in your best interests to be pulling for the pampered millionaires.

Why? Because if the union wins out in the arbitration between the players and management over baseball's right to contract, then you can be assured that the Montreal Expos will be playing in Washington next season.

"If you want baseball in Washington, then you have a serious rooting interest in the contraction arbitration," one management source said.

The union has filed a grievance against baseball's decision to contract, and on Tuesday both sides agreed to submit the grievance to an arbitrator for a June6 hearing. The union claims the decision by the owners to contract violated their labor contract. Even though management was forced to abandon plans to contract for this season because of the injunction in Minnesota that made the Twins honor their Metrodome lease, Cadillac Bud Selig has vowed to move ahead to contract two teams in 2003.

It's hard to say if he still could deliver on that threat. If efforts in Minnesota are successful to put together a stadium deal that convinces owner Carl Pohlad not to contract, or to sell the team, that leaves the Expos as the lone team owners could contract since they own that franchise.

There has been talk about other teams on the block. Cadillac Bud has made noises about Kansas City or Oakland being considered for contraction if they don't get stadium deals or improvements in their respective cities, and according to Senate testimony in February, there were about 18 teams that came up as targets for contraction.

But the fact is that baseball is not going to contract an owner that doesn't want to be contracted, whether they can or not. They don't want to wind up in court being sued by one of their own. It's one of their greatest fears (see Peter Angelos in Baltimore).

If the union wins the arbitration, though, contraction is finished. Management has used contraction as a negotiating chip. The union is using relocation, and if there is no contraction, there is nothing else to do with the Expos next year except to move them, and there is no place to move them except to Washington.

"Baseball is not going to let the Expos operate in Montreal for another season," one management source said.

Now if that happens, the questions are these:

Who will own the team?

Where will its permanent home be? The District or Northern Virginia?

Right now the group led by Fred Malek has a deal with the District, and the Bill Collins group still has a contract with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority as the favored group there. But as you have seen from the entry of Redskins owner Dan Snyder into the picture, there will be more than just these two.

Sources said Snyder initially had talks with the Malek group to join it, but he didn't want to be just an investor he wanted to be the top gun. When that wasn't going to happen, he made this partnership with Black Entertainment Television boss Robert Johnson, which will probably last about five seconds, given the volatile mix of those two personalities.

But that doesn't mean Snyder won't be a player in baseball here. As this grows closer to reality, there will be others from out of town who will be heard with their offers, and Snyder or Johnson or both could wind up with one of those groups. If baseball puts the Expos up for bid, it could wind up like the Wild West show that took place up in Boston in the bidding for the Red Sox.

As far as where the team will be, media momentum appears to be favoring the District. Media momentum, though, don't mean diddly. If, at some point, Orioles owner Peter Angelos sees he will have no choice but to accept a team down I-95, where do you think he would want it, in the District or Northern Virginia? If Angelos has been such a force in preventing a team from coming to the Washington area, then you can be sure he will have considerable influence over where that team is located.

The man who may have the most influence over the future of baseball in Washington, though, is Shyam Das the arbitrator in the contraction case. If he rules in favor of the union, those in power here might want to consider naming the new ballpark Shyam Das Field.

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