Monday, August 23, 2004

Last week, during its meetings in Philadelphia, Major League Baseball owners declined to vote on whether the Montreal Expos would move to Washington or elsewhere. Following the meetings, Commissioner Bud Selig said owners would look at all “variables” before casting votes. A decision next month, or even post-haste following the post-season, would give Washington time to pull off stupendous opening day ceremonies in RFK Stadium. Yet April 2005 is not our essential concern.

Question: Who will pay the costs for baseball to return to Washington?

Answer: Apparently not the owners.

The foot-dragging by MLB owners is indeed nagging supporters — in Washington proper, as well as those in Northern Virginia. It is nagging because baseball’s owners know that Washington is the only jurisdiction that meets all of the so-called variables that concern (including a new home on the cheap and demographics to fill the seats and concession stands). Washington has all that and more.

And therein lies our primary rub. Why offer the owners heavily subsidized housing when Washington demographics prove strong enough to sustain a new team and a new home? The city should neither increase taxes nor use tax dollars to finance a new stadium.

Existing sites are another of the variables on the owners’ minds as the clock ticks off the weeks left in regular-season play. RFK Stadium, former home to the Senators baseball club and Redskins football team, can be set up for 2005 play in a few months’ notice.

As things now stand, there is but one goal of the owners, and that is, as The Washington Times reported on Friday, “to move the Expos in time for next season.” The one goal of D.C. officials, it seems, is to lure the Expos at any cost.

The owners and their representatives will again be meeting with D.C. baseball proponents, reportedly within the next two weeks. The owner of the Chicago White Sox — Jerry Reinsdorf, who also sits on the relocation panel — said the indecision on relocating the Montreal team has “gone on way too long.” We agree.

At this juncture, however, whether the owners’ decision comes next month or next winter is a point that takes a back seat to the essential question. That question is: Who among the 13 D.C. lawmakers stands poised to say, “Yes,” give us the new ballclub, but “No” to subsidizing its wealthy owners?

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