- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

CHICAGO — Major League Baseball executives said yesterday they will hold on to the Montreal Expos as long as necessary rather than make a hasty decision in the hope of moving the franchise before the 2004 season.

“When the moon, the stars, the sun and the dollars are all aligned, we’ll do this [relocation],” MLB president Bob DuPuy said.

MLB executives have made no secret of their intent to beat the $120million paid early last year for the Expos. And despite a similarly stated intent to move the team into a permanent new home as soon as possible, money clearly has won out over time.

The ongoing wait is predicated on two financial factors: allowing the economy to recover to enable a higher selling price for the franchise and extracting as many public dollars for the stadium as possible. MLB’s relocation committee ideally would like to see a new stadium funded completely with public money.

But the three leading candidates for the MLB-owned Expos — the District, Northern Virginia and Portland, Ore. — have to date offered about two-thirds of the stadium costs in public dollars. And the District and Northern Virginia also have demanded a conditional award of the Expos before public financing is fully secured.

Amid all this, baseball still has not given up on moving the Expos for 2004, and a decision on the team’s immediate future is due between late August and the end of the season. Baseball originally hoped to have the Expos matter settled by this week.

More games in Puerto Rico, where the Expos will play 22 “home” dates this season, stands as the most likely option for next year. In the meantime, members of MLB’s relocation committee will brief commissioner Bud Selig on its work within the next 10 days. The session will be a more involved briefing following a recent meeting on the topic between DuPuy and Selig.

Selig, speaking yesterday in an online town hall chat organized by MLB.com, raved about the Expos’ Puerto Rico experience to date. The move has eased baseball’s fiscal losses on the club considerably.

“The Puerto Rican experiment has been a wonderful experiment,” Selig said. “[Expos manager] Frank Robinson has told me the players enjoyed it and he’s enjoyed it. I feel really good about that experiment.”

Selig then met with reporters briefly in the back of the pressbox at U.S. Cellular Field during the Home Run Derby last night but remained noncommittal about the future of the Expos.

“The relocation committee has a lot of work to do,” Selig said. “And they will get it done when they can.”

Selig said he did not have the recommendation of the committee yet, contrary to a report.

“No, that is not true,” he said. “I haven’t even met with them yet. I have been very busy, and if I can’t meet with them here, we will do it in Milwaukee [Seligs hometown].”

When asked whether he was disappointed no recommendation had been made, Selig answered, “I’m not disappointed. I have too many other things to be disappointed about.”

Baseball’s patient attitude toward the Expos only heightens the tension between MLB executives and Jack Evans, chairman of the D.C. Council finance committee. Evans has said 2003 is baseball’s “one shot” to commit to Washington and said he will not entertain stadium legislation next year, an election year for him and several others on the D.C. Council.

DuPuy said yesterday the relocation committee still intends to meet with Evans, but a date has not been set. Several members of the committee were supposed to meet with Evans two weeks ago in Washington, but MLB asked to postpone the session at the last minute.

As for Evans’ demand of a commitment to Washington, later echoed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, DuPuy said, “We respect their opinion, their sensitivities and their political constraints. They’re entitled to take a position. We’ll take a look at it and go from there.”

DuPuy also said several cities beyond the three primary candidates have inquired about the team. San Juan, which in May was invited by Selig to apply for the Expos on a permanent basis, is among those.

“We’ve advised the commissioner on other communities that have made inquiries,” DuPuy said.

In any case, big decisions loom for the Expos. The team has several key players eligible for either free agency or salary arbitration after this season, including star outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.

Meanwhile, officials from both Northern Virginia and the District continue to meet informally here with baseball executives and team general managers. Northern Virginia has sent nearly 20 people from the Virginia Baseball Club, led by prospective owner William Collins. The District is being represented by Williams, Eric Price and Steve Green from the office of planning and economic development and Bobby Goldwater and Bill Hall from the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission.

Staff writer Thom Loverro contributed to this report.

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