Thursday, August 19, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — Major League Baseball, long seen as the intransigent party in the stalled Montreal Expos relocation process, fired back yesterday at the six bidding jurisdictions, saying none of the current offers is complete enough to warrant a move.

“There’s nothing we can tie a ribbon around and sign,” said MLB president Bob DuPuy. “We’re continuing the process of trying to get things clarified and trying to ensure that whatever offer, whatever stadium deal is ultimately accepted ensures the ultimate success of the Expos.”

MLB’s relocation committee met here yesterday for 90 minutes as part of the quarterly owners’ meeting, evaluating the latest bids from the District; Northern Virginia; Las Vegas; Norfolk, Va.; Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico. As recently as last month, yesterday’s session was the target date to announce the club’s new home. Instead, it only continued what has long been baseball’s biggest albatross.

“Eventually, these discussions are going to have to evolve to a point where either we say or the municipality or governmental entity says, ‘We’re as far as we can go. This is the deal that we’ve got before us,’” DuPuy said.

DuPuy said the clear aim remains to move the Expos in time for next season. But the darkened stance places in doubt widespread hopes of gaining a decision within a month and compromises prospective renovation schedules for RFK Stadium.

District officials ideally want four to six months to improve the 43-year-old stadium for baseball should they win the relocation derby. But actual work can begin only after legislative approval arrives from the D.C. Council for a stadium financing package, a process that will take at least another month.

And if Northern Virginia, seen along with its Potomac River neighbor as a clear front-runner in the Expos chase, wins out, the situation is equally complex. The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority must seek approval of a ballpark construction bond repayment plan from the General Assembly while MLB would need to arrange a short-term lease for the use of RFK.

The lengthening wait also hampers myriad other issues, including scheduling, travel, staffing and marketing.

Publicly, officials from both local bids sought to take DuPuy’s comments in stride.

“This is baseball doing its due diligence,” said Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. “What they’re doing is looking at every possible aspect, which is what you do in a decision of this magnitude.”

But privately, each camp was chafing.

“I don’t know how you say that,” said a source close to one of the local bids. “When you starting working backwards on the calendar [from Opening Day 2005], they’re really getting in a bind.”

DuPuy yesterday declined to elaborate on what exactly any or all of the six bids lack, but industry sources said baseball’s concerns have run the gamut from financing and land acquisition to government support and transportation. Advanced stadium lease negotiations in recent weeks with both the District and Northern Virginia seemed to suggest that more issues were getting resolved instead of rising to the surface.

The relocation committee also continues to seek clarification on many fine points in both District and Northern Virginia bids and will schedule meetings with those two bids, along with Norfolk and Las Vegas, within the next two weeks.

MLB is in its third season of owning the Expos, a situation originally intended to last just one year.

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, meanwhile, reiterated his vociferous stance against any Washington area team, a stance that drew some angry protests at yesterday’s Orioles FanFest at Farragut Square.

“My position has not changed one iota,” Angelos said. “My feelings on this are very clear. Presumably, my colleagues are aware of [them], and hopefully they concur.”

Angelos has met several times in recent weeks with DuPuy and MLB commissioner Bud Selig to discuss the relocation process but declined to comment on those talks. He did throw his support again behind the Norfolk bid, and he talks with bid officials there on a fairly regular basis.

“Norfolk probably would be quite favorable to us,” Angelos said, smiling. “I think that’s a great area.”

In today’s general session of the owners, Selig will receive a three-year contract extension. Owners also will give a green light to a baseball network set to hit reach households next season as well as a World Cup-style international tournament.

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