- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is actively developing contingency plans in the event it does not move the Montreal Expos before the 2004 season.

Although such a move long has been assumed to be happening, MLB president Bob DuPuy confirmed yesterday that baseball’s relocation committee is making preparations should team owners not be ready to make a decision on the long-suffering Expos by mid-July.

A return to Puerto Rico, where the MLB-owned Expos are playing 22 of 81 home games this season, likely is the leading fallback plan for 2004. Also possible is playing some games in other cities, perhaps relocation candidates Washington and Portland, Ore.

“Throughout this process, we have been evaluating all our options,” DuPuy said during a two-day owners’ meeting here. “Going back to Puerto Rico is one option. Playing in other cities is also an option.”

Making a relocation announcement on the Expos by mid-July and moving the team sometime during the offseason remains baseball’s preferred timetable, DuPuy said. But several hurdles have prompted an increasing wave of whispers within baseball that a move in time for next season is becoming all but impossible.

Among those hurdles are incomplete ballpark site and financing plans in each of the three candidate jurisdictions: the District, Northern Virginia and Portland. MLB officials have insisted upon solid ballpark plans, with as much public financing as possible, from each area.

Also, a Miami federal judge ruled Tuesday that baseball must give former limited partners of the Expos 90 days’ notice before moving the club. The limited partners are suing Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and key MLB officials under a racketeering lawsuit, and that mandated lead time may prompt already tentative owners to wait another year.

“It is our goal to get the facility and location questions [for relocation] resolved,” DuPuy said.

Antonio Munoz, the promoter who helped set up the Puerto Rico games, told the Associated Press he has talked with baseball about having more games.

“We’ve had conversations but we have not defined the amount of games we would bring, if any, or if it will be done or not,” Munoz said. “There isn’t anything solid yet.”

Since creating the July deadline to announce the Expos’ new home six months ago, MLB officials have eased off that several times. In January, commissioner Bud Selig said he would not guarantee an Expos move for 2004.

The relocation committee, which briefed Selig at length on its efforts yesterday, will be contacting each of the three jurisdictions in coming days for more information on its bids. Site visits by the committee are also possible before mid-July.

In Puerto Rico, games this season have averaged 14,282 spectators, 35 percent better than the average in Montreal. Also buttressing MLB’s enthusiasm for Puerto Rico is an $6million up-front guarantee from the commonwealth for 2003.

D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission officials said last year they would not be interested in playing only a few Expos games at RFK Stadium with no guarantee of a permanent placement. Improving RFK for baseball would cost an estimated $15million if the Expos moved here permanently and probably could not be significantly reduced if fewer games were played.

“We’re were negative on this idea given the factors that were presented for the 2003 season,” said Bobby Goldwater, commission president and executive director. “Another scenario is another conversation. We’d have to hear what they have in mind if it comes to that.”

District Mayor Anthony A. Williams last week introduced a $338.7million public financing package to the City Council and hopes to have it approved by July1. The proposed package works off a three-pronged revenue model tapping into tax income from ballpark-related commerce, player salaries and the gross receipts of large businesses.

Concern is significant among council members, however, over the package’s bonding safeguards, and some modification of the package in the coming weeks is probable.

In Northern Virginia, a shell of a somewhat similar public financing package, worth $285million, is in place with the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority’s existing bonding power. But the authority has asked for a conditional award of the Expos before proceeding much further, and landowners at each of the authority’s proposed ballpark sites are not enthused with the suggestion of baseball on their property.

Meanwhile, owners today will formally approve the purchase of the Anaheim Angels by Arizona industrialist Arturo Moreno. Moreno’s $180million purchase price for the World Series champions shocked many in the sports industry for being tens of millions less than any popular estimate of the team’s value.

But Moreno’s impending status as the first Hispanic majority owner in major pro sports and his highly successful business career, particularly in outdoor advertising, proved a compelling combination for baseball. His purchase also ends a long and difficult sales process for Walt Disney Co.

“Baseball has become more [racially] diverse than ever,” DuPuy said. “This is just the next step of that, and a very important step.”

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