- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Mayor Anthony A. Williams appears willing to stand on his head and count to 100 if it results in the city securing the nomadic Montreal Expos.

The well-meaning mayor is prepared to do almost anything to impress Commissioner Bud Selig and the owners of Major League Baseball, even if it means building a $436 million ballpark and dumping a $338.7 million bill on the public.

This is the small-print insult from a city that rarely meets its taxpayer-funded obligations in an efficient manner.

The mayor is dancing with a pampered group of entrepreneurs who think in mysterious ways and appear allergic to the nation’s capital and Northern Virginia.

They do not want to offend Peter Angelos in Baltimore or compromise the financial integrity of the Orioles, or somehow strain the game in a way that the Montreal-San Juan measure does not.

The baseball ninnies seemingly have a zillion reasons that justify their antipathy to the Washington region, and they are permitted the latitude because of the game’s illusions.

Sports franchises are perceived to be some kind of uplifting ornament of a city, and so leaders such as Mr. Williams are conditioned to go into the roll-over position in an attempt to be the chosen one, pushing the so-called economic benefits and identity-granting power of a team.

Cities build these massive playpens and add all kinds of sweeteners to close the one-sided deal. Cities offer tax cuts or tax exemptions and exercise remarkable restraint around the parking and concession revenue streams.

Perhaps acting like a squealing schoolgirl is understandable if you are the mayor in Portland, Ore., and other than the basketball-playing Trail Blazers, the Nike headquarters and a rainy forecast, you are not bringing a lot of discussion to the national table.

But this is D.C., the most powerful city in the world. If George W. Bush comes down with the flu, the rest of the world takes notes.

As usual, Mr. Selig and the baseball owners are unswayed by Washington’s panache. They are playing their same old games with a demographically rich region. They can’t seem to resolve the old issue of the Expos, and Mr. Williams, on cue, is playing along.

He will build the ballpark and exempt it from property taxes. He will increase the taxes on large businesses in the city and impose a larger tax bite on all ballpark-related transactions.

Mr. Williams will throw out the first pitch and dust off home plate for a small fee, if it helps ease the cost of a ballpark.

Quiet, please.

The baseball commissioner and the owners are deep in thought, forever perplexed by the existence of the Expos. They were hoping to reach a decision on a permanent home for the Expos by next month, but now, there is so much more to consider.

There is San Juan. There also is the prospect of Portland eventually coming up with the right numbers and studies and plans that spare baseball from having to succumb to Washington or Northern Virginia.

Mr. Williams is desperate enough to make this 11th-hour push before baseball’s loosely defined deadline next month. He is down on his hands and knees. He wants to be the man who returned baseball to the city, the costs to the public be darned. Baseball as a legacy beats potholes, flying manhole covers and an ever-burgeoning rat population.

The D.C. Council’s Finance Committee is planning its first review of the mayor’s proposal today, which is certain to elicit a series of sober-minded tinkering amid the hard political reality.

A publicly financed ballpark is galling enough on its own. The gall rises exponentially in the context of baseball’s arrogance and the city’s inefficiency with basic services.

Fix the schools. Repair the roads.

This is Year 32 of the unpardonable.

Believe it or not, we have done all right in baseball’s absence.

If anything, baseball should be begging Washington to return to the fold.

Maybe next season the Expos can play 41 games in San Juan, another 20 games on a West Indies island to be named later, 10 games on a sandlot in Iowa and 10 games in Montreal for old time’s sake.

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