- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

No conditions.
That's what Major League Baseball's executive vice president and chief legal counsel will tell two local groups who hope to buy the Montreal Expos this year and bring them to the Washington area in 2003.
Yesterday Robert DuPuy made it clear that baseball would not accept either of two unsolicited bids to buy the Expos with the condition of moving the team to the Washington area. The Expos are soon to be without an owner, prompting the latest salvos from an area already longing for baseball.
"I do not believe there is a strong sense of allowing a bid to operate the Expos if there are conditions attached," DuPuy said.
A D.C.-based group led by financier Fred Malek last week tendered a standing offer for the Expos, estimated at $160 million. That bid was followed up by a similar one by a group led by Northern Virginia telecommunications executive William Collins, Virginia legislators have confirmed. In each offer, the Expos would operate in Quebec for the 2002 season, play in RFK Stadium for at least the 2003 and 2004 seasons, then move into a newly built baseball-only stadium.
The league, however, has not yet moved to its front burner the fate of the long-suffering Expos.
Last week, Florida Marlins owner John Henry received approval to buy the Boston Red Sox for $700 million and seeks to close a deal to sell the Marlins to Montreal owner Jeffrey Loria for $158 million. With no other buyer waiting in the wings in Quebec, and the league's effort to eliminate the Expos and Minnesota Twins before this coming season stalled, a league takeover of the Expos appears imminent.
"We're still addressing these franchises one at a time, as we've indicated for weeks," DuPuy said. "We settled the Red Sox [sale to Henry] last week. We're working on [selling] Florida [to Loria] now. After that, we'll move on to the Expos."
Both Malek and Collins declined to comment yesterday on the bids, but sources close to both said any different response from baseball would have come as a surprise. The bids were intended as alternatives for MLB executives not thrilled with the prospect of taking over what is by far the league's weakest franchise.
No major league team has moved since the second Washington Senators left for Texas after the 1971 season.
Local interest in baseball's return to the area, already at a high, received another jolt last week when commissioner Bud Selig said Washington was a "prime candidate" to receive a relocated team, though he had no specific timetable. Selig was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, MLB's effort to eliminate the Twins and Expos before the 2002 season received another blow yesterday when the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a district court's injunction that required the Twins to play the entire 2002 campaign at the Metrodome. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which operates the Metrodome, sued to ensure the Twins would not be eliminated.
With just a month remaining before the start of baseball's spring training, the league is running out of time to eliminate two teams and adjust schedules. Nonetheless, DuPuy said yesterday the idea of eliminating teams was still alive and that an appeal would be sent promptly to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
"While we are disappointed with the decision of the appeals court, we are not surprised," he said. "We will seek a final determination in the Minnesota Supreme Court as soon as possible."
Malek's group which includes AOL founder Jim Kimsey, Fannie Mae Chairman Franklin Raines, area developer Joe Robert, and D.C. lawyers Paul Wolff and Stephen Porter met Monday to begin implementing its recent agreement with the District of Columbia. The agreement involves exclusive short-term use of RFK Stadium by the Malek group for baseball and joint lobbying efforts to land a team. Plans are in the works to prepare the 40-year-old facility for baseball.
"We assume ultimately we'll be getting a team, and we're proceeding accordingly," Malek said.
Building a new stadium, however, is likely to present a challenge, particularly in Virginia. Malek and Collins are each seeking more than $200 million in public-sector assistance toward a new stadium. Such an investment in the District would require the approval of the D.C. Council. In Virginia, the situation is much more dire as the Commonwealth is facing a $3.5 billion budget shortfall between now and 2005. Even with government approval, public funding for a stadium would likely need approval through a referendum vote.
"Right now, it doesn't look like there's money in Virginia to help fund a stadium," said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat. "But we're all supportive of baseball in the commonwealth and supportive of this latest bid. The chances are still probably 50-50, but they're the highest they've ever been."

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