Sunday, June 2, 2002

William Collins, chairman of the Virginia-based effort to land a major league baseball franchise, knows a little something about waiting.
Collins and his partners have sought a team for eight years. They’ve been turned down in expansion derbies. They were turned down trying to buy the Montreal Expos early this year. They almost had a deal to buy and relocate the Houston Astros, only to see that club stay put and land a new ballpark.
The last few months, however, have seen the wait increase from simply long to borderline absurd. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has called the Washington area “a prime candidate” to land a team. MLB president Bob DuPuy followed it up in April by labeling the local area as an “inevitable” site for baseball. Millions of hours and tens of thousands of hours have been spent over the years, often at baseball’s encouragement, on research studies of every possible sort.
But no timetable has been given for a potential relocation, except for sometime after a new labor deal is struck between the owners and players.
We all know how those talks are going nowhere. Because of the whole debacle over MLB’s effort to kill at least two franchises, labor negotiations can’t even really begin in earnest until after an arbitrator rules on the legality of the contraction, probably in mid-July. And once the two sides finally sit down in earnest, they’ll find themselves miles apart on nearly every core issue and working under the backdrop of decades of mutual distrust.
Add in the now-raging furor over widespread steroid use, a systemic competitive and financial imbalance between clubs and a growing disaffection among the fan base, and you have one deeply troubled sport.
At some point, you might think a rational businessman would simply process all that information and take his money and time elsewhere particularly before he’s up to his eyeballs in debt. But Collins remains doggedly at it, as does as a District-based group led by financier Fred Malek, with absolutely no guarantee of ultimately getting a team. Just when baseball appears to be at its most troubled and ready to implode, that’s when these groups want in the most.
The situation is not unlike last fall’s bidding frenzy for the Boston Red Sox but with no team.
“I am as committed to this effort as the day we started in 1994,” said Collins, who is still waiting for approval from the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority (an organization he funds almost entirely) on a new working agreement. “We have not wavered one bit.”
Well, that’s not exactly true. Not long ago, Collins seemed chastened while talking about the Selig and DuPuy salvos, wearily telling The Washington Times, “We’ve had all these comments from Bud Selig and Bob DuPuy about baseball coming, and everyone’s gotten excited. But the bottom line is, nothing really has changed and won’t change until those issues are resolved.”
Upon reflection, Collins checked his comments.
“Baseball is going to do [a relocation] on their timetable. We know that and we have to remember that,” Collins said. “We’re going to go through peaks and valleys in business, whether it’s baseball or any other industry. The thing going for us is that baseball knows this market and knows what we’re about. There’s not a lot of education that needs to be done anymore.”
Malek, who is on friendly terms with Collins despite their firm difference on the proper site for a local team, concurred.
“On the one I hand, I really hate to see baseball going through so many difficulties,” Malek said. “But I remain hopeful they’ll work through the labor thing without any work stoppage. And as a potential owner, I understand the sequence they’re working through and want to know what economic structure will be in place. It’s the sound way to go, and when you keep that in mind, you don’t lose patience.”
Perhaps more frustrating to Malek and Collins than baseball’s beleaguered state is their inability to do anything about the wait. Like any businessman with a modicum of success, they put themselves in position to buy a team not by sitting on their hands.
“What else can you do?,” Malek said. “We know the process at hand. We’re putting ourselves in the best position possible to move forward. It may not be optimal, but that’s what’s in front of us.”

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