Saturday, July 10, 2004

The prevalent feeling among baseball insiders is that after 32 years the issue of baseball returning to the Washington area is on the verge of being resolved.

That feeling is based purely on a sense of momentum rather than facts.

Baseball’s statements indicate that officials plan to make a decision on the relocation of the Montreal Expos this year and ideally sometime this summer. Signals from the national media also indicate that Washington’s two locations — the District and Northern Virginia — are the finalists under consideration by the relocation committee.

It is easy to draw these conclusions, but what seems to be unresolved — and has been the key sticking point of baseball returning Washington all along — is that Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos isn’t ready to give up his fight to keep baseball out of Washington.

Several weeks ago, it looked as though Angelos waved the white flag when he told the Associated Press, “Unfortunately, I have no choice” but to accept a move to greater Washington, Angelos said. “After all, Washington is also my capital.”

Since then, other developments indicate Angelos has done anything but give up the fight. The Washington Times reported he was actively helping a new group in Puerto Rico to bring the Expos to San Juan permanently. The Expos played a portion of their home schedule there for the last two seasons. Angelos went ballistic when Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley came out and said he would support the placing of a major league team in the Washington area.

These actions, and reactions, don’t fit the profile of a man who truly believes he has no choice.

So much manpower has been invested in both the efforts of the District and Northern Virginia bids, that their leaders have a hard time believing neither would be awarded the Expos. Baseball certainly wouldn’t take them this far down the road only to let Angelos derail the plan this late in the process, would it?

“They wouldn’t be going through all this if the Angelos issue hadn’t been dealt with, in one way or another,” said one source close to District baseball.

No, baseball wouldn’t do anything as dishonest as string along communities. They’ve never done that before, right?

In Northern Virginia Bill Collins thinks he dealt with the Angelos issue with his plan to put the team near Dulles Airport, about 60 miles from Camden Yards. And he may be onto something.

It is safe to conclude that the presence of the Orioles in Baltimore is the only reason major league baseball hasn’t returned to Washington since the Senators moved to Texas after the 1971 season. And that roadblock has grown under Angelos, the first Orioles owner to publicly and unapologetically speak out against moving a team here.

So if the Orioles are the single, most imposing force that has prevented baseball from returning to Washington, why then wouldn’t the presence of the Orioles play a role in where the team is located in the Washington area? How can the Orioles be such a factor overall, but not a factor in the final decision-making process?

Television revenue and advertising would not likely change whether the team was in the District or Northern Virginia, but the attendance impact would surely be lessened by the team near Dulles rather than next to RFK Stadium or on New York Avenue or anyplace else on the District side of the Potomac. And attendance counts for something. They don’t announce the advertising sales or television ratings every night at Camden Yards.

The noise Angelos is making could simply be positioning himself for the best deal possible when the move — most likely to come before the 2005 schedule comes out in August — is announced. One high-ranking major league official said the Orioles owner could be strengthening his case for the indemnity payoff amount he is expected to receive when the Expos are moved. And he could also be strengthening his case for where they are moved.

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