- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission sponsored a public hearing last night on the five proposed sites for a new baseball park, an effort to "update" the public on the city's site evaluation project.

Before that, though, commission chairman John Richardson had a little update for Major League Baseball, which has been floating the notion that it is considering a temporary home for the embattled Montreal Expos franchise for next season until they can determine the future of the club beyond 2003.

If baseball is looking for a place to drop the Expos for a season without any further commitment than that they can forget about Washington.

When asked if he believed the District would be willing to play host to the Expos for one season while the issue of ownership is still up in the air, Richardson told me, "I'm almost certain the answer is no. There would have to be a lot of money spent on RFK to get it into shape for major league baseball, and somebody will have to pay for that. I can't believe the commission or anyone else in the city would do that without some assurances of retaining the franchise for more than one year."

"If baseball would be willing to spend the money to fix up RFK, then we would have to consider it," Richardson said, referring to the several million dollars it would take to have RFK ready for baseball. "But if it is our money or the city is asked to contribute, there would absolutely have to be some kind of further commitment."

Baseball officials are supposedly reviewing all of these so-called options for what to do with the Expos next year, a team owned by the 29 other major league owners with losses estimated to be $40million this year, which could rise to $60million next year.

In an effort to reduce those losses while still retaining ownership for another season as they sort out how to sell the team and to whom, baseball is supposedly considering playing someplace other than Montreal, where the franchise drew less than 1million fans for the fifth straight season and could be looking at far worse attendance next year, particularly if young and talented Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon are traded to cut payroll.

Expos president Tony Tavares told me this past weekend that baseball had all sorts of possibilities to consider. "I know first-hand that a good deal of options are being studied," Tavares said. "They are looking at every option that is clearly apparent, looking at demographics and a whole variety of issues, and that process is continuing.

"The question is, when do you stop taking the broad stroke information and start paring down your opportunities, and focus in on maybe three or four opportunities?" Tavares said. "Once you start that process, after a couple of weeks, you should have a decision. But we have not gotten to that point yet."

Some of these "options" floated in the national media have included moving the team possibly to Portland, Ore.; Charlotte; New Orleans; Salt Lake City; or even Bugtussle, Tenn.; for one season. Another notion has been to have the team play in three locations, almost like an audition process, which would mean that the players would be on a permanent road trip the entire season.

Considering the scheduling problems with either of these proposals (the 2003 schedule is already set), you can expect howls of protests from the players union.

Also, few from these locations have given an indication they are interested in having the Expos for a season. If anything, they have rejected the notion. Only Portland has come forward saying it will be willing to do so. "We've contacted Major League Baseball and invited them to consider Portland in whatever options they decide to choose involving the Montreal Expos," said Drew Maholic, chief operating officer of the Portland Oregon Sports Authority.

You know what? I think baseball is running some kind of con game. I don't believe there are all of these so-called options. I think it's an illusion, for what purpose, I am not sure. I think the only realistic option, other than staying in Montreal, is Washington, where the scheduling problems could be handled with ease.

Richardson doesn't believe these other options that have been publicized are for real either. "I don't think it's a real proposal," he said. "I don't think putting the Expos in an alternative place or moving them around is very realistic."

Baseball officials say privately they want new ballpark commitments financing and locations from either the District or Northern Virginia before they will considering selling the team to one of the groups seeking to bring baseball here either the Washington Baseball Club, a co-host of last night's hearing, or Virginia Baseball, which wants to put the franchise in Northern Virginia. There is also the Dan Snyder-Bob Johnson marriage, but no one is really sure what they are doing.

Last night's hearing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library was a small step toward that commitment. But if baseball wants something more a place for the Expos to call home while commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig engineers the sale of the franchise they should put their cards on the table in what is developing into a game of franchise poker.

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