- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2003

Major League Baseball likely will not announce a decision on the future of the Montreal Expos during next week’s All-Star break.

The expected delay furthers growing suspicions within baseball that the Expos will not be given a permanent new home for next season. It also scuttles local groups’ hopes of getting a quick start in preparing for the team to play at RFK Stadium in April 2004.

Rich Levin, Major League Baseball’s senior vice president for communications, said he does not “expect anything to happen [with relocation] next week.”

Baseball’s relocation committee had hoped to issue a recommendation by Tuesday’s All-Star Game on the future of the Expos, who are owned by MLB.

That now appears unlikely.

“I know [July 15] was the goal when the committee first set out, but I don’t know how serious and absolute it was,” Levin said.

Expos president Tony Tavares agreed that the opportunity to move the club for next season is nearly past.

“2004 is probably slipping away as a possibility for relocation,” he said.

Several baseball sources and local government officials said that delaying an announcement by 30 to 90 days but still moving the club for the 2004 season remains an option.

Such a delay would allow relocation candidate cities, particularly the District and Portland, Ore., to advance public stadium financing efforts.

“There are all kinds of theories flying around,” said one District government official who declined to be identified.

However, the delay, if it leads to no move of the MLB-owned Expos before 2005, likely will have damaging and perhaps fatal effects on the Washington-area bids for a team.

The two local prospective team owners — District financier Fred Malek and William Collins, a former telecommunications executive based in Northern Virginia — already are making plans to continue their efforts into 2004.

Malek, who has memorandum of understanding with the District government for priority use of RFK Stadium for baseball, will begin negotiating an extension to the pact this fall if the Expos still have yet to move. The two-year deal expires in January.

Collins holds a set of five one-year agreements to be the commonwealth’s preferred baseball team owner, and he already has exercised an option to keep working with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority through at least May 31, 2004.

Those agreements cost him $1million a year and fund the vast majority of authority operations.

But marshaling the needed political force to piece together a viable stadium site and financing package could prove far more difficult. Already, Jack Evans, chairman of the D.C. Council’s finance committee, said this year is baseball’s “one shot” to relocate to Washington.

None of the three candidates to get the Expos — the District, Northern Virginia and Portland — has a finished and ratified stadium package, something MLB executives have insisted upon.

“The three communities have not done yet what’s necessary to get the deal done,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports industry consultant. “All three bids still have major holes in them.”

Contingency plans for the Expos, including the return of the team for more “home” games in Puerto Rico next year, have been in the works for many weeks.

Collins, however, remains optimistic a decision will be quickly forthcoming on the Expos. The belief is also shared north of the Potomac River, particularly by District Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

“We have every indication the committee is finishing their work and will be moving that recommendation onto the commissioner,” Collins said.

Other MLB executives were not available for comment.

Tavares said Evans’ hardline stance of insisting baseball first make a commitment to Washington before proceeding on stadium legislation has not helped the situation.

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s the correct way of proceeding,” Tavares said. “Baseball needs to know a stadium is absolutely going to happen, and without that, I think it’s putting the cart before the horse. So I don’t think what’s happening there is productive.”

Evans was to meet last week with members of the relocation committee before MLB called it off. Given the frenetic schedules with each of the parties, holding a rescheduled meeting before Tuesday is now doubtful at best.

Since January, less than two months after MLB formed the relocation committee, Commissioner Bud Selig and others began backing off their originally stated goal of making a decision on the Expos by July 15. But mixed in with the backtracking was an insistence that the All-Star Game was still the goal to make a decision.

The All-Star Game itself also appears to be complicating the issue. After last year’s debacle, marked by a 7-7 tie and record-low TV ratings, MLB executives are expending huge amounts of time and money to make this year’s game attractive to fans and corporate sponsors alike. Even though MLB picked the July 15 date for an Expos announcement, several industry sources said significant MLB-driven attention on the Expos next week could detract from the All-Star Game.

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