- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

Just when you thought big-league baseball had run out of foolish schemes to deny the Washington area a baseball team and appease Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, Commissioner Bud Selig and his owner pals pull a real stinker out of the hat: have baseball's financially weakest franchise, the Montreal Expos, split their season between Montreal, where they'll play 60 or so home games, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they'll play the remaining 21 or so games.
Last year, the other 29 clubs purchased the Expos from Jeffrey Loria so that he could buy the Florida Marlins from John Henry, enabling Henry to buy the Boston Red Sox. The Expos drew just 812,000 fans, or roughly10,000 a game to Olympic Stadium the worst home attendance in baseball. In reality, the Expos have been abandoned by Montreal-area fans since the mid-1990s. Local newspapers don't send reporters on the road to cover the team. There is no local television contract.
Baseball owners expect to the Expos to rack up heavy financial losses at Olympic Stadium next season. They hope, however, that enough Puerto Rican fans will pack the 20,000-seat Hiram Bithorn stadium in San Juan to make a profit and offset at least some of the losses from playing in Montreal. The Expos finished a respectable 83-79 last year, good for second place in the National League's Eastern Division, despite having the lowest payroll in baseball: $38 million. To keep from losing their best players and degenerating into a Triple-A quality team, the team will need to increase its 2003 payroll to well over $50 million.
Whether owners will agree to pick up the tab so the Expos can re-sign the players necessary to compete with their own teams is anyone's guess. Should the Expos get off to a slow start next season, look for "Cadillac" Bud to OK unloading their players to contending teams at fire-sale prices.
It is simply bad business for baseball to continue subsidizing the Expos, when the owners could be lining their pockets with money from one of several ownership groups seeking to bring a team to the District of Columbia or Northern Virginia. Aside from Selig, there's one man to blame for the fact that baseball won't be in Washington next season: Angelos.
In attempting to strong-arm a competitive baseball team out of Washington, Angelos never tires of complaining about his club's declining attendance in recent years. But he only needs to look in the mirror to see the man chiefly responsible for the decline of this once-proud franchise. When Angelos bought the Orioles, it was a contending club that routinely filled up Camden Yards. Now, it is one of the worst in baseball, ending last season with a woeful 67-95 record. The top three teams in their minor-league system (i.e., the Orioles of the future) were no less hideous. (The Rochester Red Wings, Bowie Baysox and Frederick Keys won a combined 157 games and lost 262.)
If Selig really wants to strengthen baseball, he needs to stop playing games with second- and third-tier markets like San Juan and bring a team to Washington. Then, he ought to tell Angelos to concentrate on cleaning up his farm system instead of driving healthy competition out of the Washington area.


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