- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

As I was driving by RFK Stadium yesterday about 4:30 p.m., I thought I could hear the sounds of batting practice.
Turns out it was just the pinging of my engine thanks to the cheap gas I put in my car. Another illusion.
But after yesterday's announcement of a labor deal between the players union and major league baseball owners, which included an agreement for no contraction for the length of the four-year contract, the illusion may be closer to reality than at any time since the Washington Senators left the District after the 1971 season.
There are good reasons to believe that there will be major league baseball players taking part in batting practice, games and all sorts of baseball stuff next season at RFK Stadium now that the illusion of contraction a bargaining chip all along, we see was taken off the table.
The one reason to believe it won't happen may be the lawyer in Baltimore. I can't figure out Peter Angelos' angle in all this. He was part of the management negotiating team that hammered out the agreement. He was part of the deal that would seem to have paved the way for baseball to come to the area.
There's no chance baseball will operate the Expos in Montreal for another season under the conditions they have now a franchise supported by the 29 other major league owners. Owners are upset about competing with a team they are supporting in trades, such as the ones that brought Bartolo Colon and (briefly) Cliff Floyd to Montreal during the season. They are furious that the team they are propping up paid a record signing bonus $2.5million to sign its first-round pick.
Even Angelos himself says that situation can't go on, calling the current system of ownership for the Expos "a conflict of interest."
Does that mean the Baltimore owner is throwing in the towel, resigned to the fact that baseball will return to the Washington-Northern Virginia market a market that he has insisted belongs to the Orioles? Or are the rumors true that Angelos is ready to sell the franchise and get out of the game and wanted to repair his damaged reputation by leaving a legacy of changing the labor landscape?
How ironic is that? The management maverick in the last strike the one who suggested that fellow owners "pass out the Kool-Aid" when they agreed to use replacement players is part of the team that forges the first deal between players and owners without a work stoppage. (I've got to give Angelos his due. They should have listened to him back in 1994. He was right about the replacement players. All it served to do was galvanize the union at a time when it finally might have come apart.)
Unless there is some hidden agenda here so maniacal and bizarre that I can't figure it out, baseball is coming to Washington next year. After all, baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig has told everyone that once a labor deal was reached, and contraction was dealt with, then baseball would address relocation. Now he will be held to his words a slippery prospect, granted which also declared this winter that the Washington area was a prime market for relocation.
Then the question becomes where the team will be in the District or in Northern Virginia. Both sides of the river are moving forward in the stadium design and site selection process D.C. Sports Commission executive director Bobby Goldwater said yesterday he expects their site selection report to be completed by October.
In the end, though, it will be baseball that decides where the team will play, and if you're a fan of the District location, you have to be concerned about Angelos' role in this. If baseball is coming back to the Washington-Baltimore area, it's likely that owners will let Angelos have some influence over the location of the franchise.
Despite pleas otherwise from the Washington Baseball Club, there is a perception in some baseball circles that a franchise will have less impact on the Orioles if it is in Northern Virginia than in the District. Angelos obviously would prefer to have to team located as far away from Camden Yards as possible Richmond, preferably.
Once baseball decides where it will be located, then it will decide who will own the team. There are all these exclusivity agreements floating around. Bill Collins and Virginia Baseball have one with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, and Fred Malek and the Washington Baseball Club have one with the District.
Then there is Redskins owner Dan Snyder and BET boss Robert Johnson, who supposedly also want in on the baseball sweepstakes. They don't have an exclusivity agreement, but, hey, he's Danny Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins. In this town, that usually means you have an exclusivity agreement to do whatever you want.
Once baseball decides where it wants the franchise, then you likely will see all sorts of changes to various ownership groups, none of which may resemble what they are today. As in Boston, baseball will decide who owns a Washington area team and where it will play.
However the ownership shakes out, the sounds coming from RFK Stadium next year likely will be ball meeting bat. It won't be echoes of Senators teams past or from cheap gas.

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