- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

CHICAGO — Major League Baseball owners yesterday postponed a much anticipated vote to approve the Montreal Expos’ relocation to Washington, with the objections of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos again playing a large role.

Officially, commissioner Bud Selig cited a “myriad of internal issues still at play” as the reason behind the delay, declining to elaborate. But several industry sources familiar with the owners meetings said the maneuver was done out of both necessity and deference to Angelos.

The Orioles owner still is negotiating a compensation package with baseball as a result of the move to Washington, and firm agreement has not been reached.

Selig, who seeks out owner consensus wherever possible, typically does not bring measures up for a vote if unanimity is not in place.

“Bud likes to announce unanimous votes, 30-0 votes, and he just didn’t have that today, not with Angelos still not done,” said one baseball executive.

The owners’ relocation vote now will occur in about two weeks and no later than Dec.6, the deadline for MLB approval as outlined in baseball’s relocation pact with the District.

The delay also likely will allow MLB executives to see the result of the D.C. Council’s first vote on financing for a planned ballpark near the Anacostia River waterfront in Southeast. That vote, originally scheduled Nov.9, was tabled by council chairman Linda W. Cropp and now is slated Nov.30. The council’s second reading on the stadium bill likely will occur Dec.14. Final ratification of the funding must be in place by Dec.31.

The still incomplete talks between Angelos and MLB have centered on the Orioles owner receiving a hefty package of benefits, including guarantees to protect his annual local revenue and future resale price for the club and an equity stake in a new regional sports network. Still undetermined, however, are the expiration dates of the financial guarantees and measures to ensure competitive impetus for the Orioles.

Angelos was not available for comment after yesterday’s meetings.

“I would certainly hope everything is completed before we vote,” Selig said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

It appears much more certain the Expos’ move to the District is not in jeopardy, and no alternate sites are being considered. In fact, MLB president Bob DuPuy said a statement will be released today indicating when the team’s nickname — Nationals — new logo and redesigned uniforms will be officially unveiled. That unveiling is all but certain to occur next week.

“We are still moving forward. This does not affect us one bit,” said Washington club president Tony Tavares. “We don’t worry about things we cannot control. We obviously went out and signed some players this week, we’re selling tickets, doing all the things we need to do.”

Said DuPuy: “This [relocation] is still a slam dunk. We fully expect [District] Mayor [Anthony A.] Williams and the council to come through on the stadium. We just decided not to vote today.”

One possibility for the owners’ vote is Dec.1, one day after the first D.C. Council vote and one day before Selig is due to speak before the annual meeting of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Meanwhile, the club registered an unqualified success with season ticket sales yesterday, taking orders for more than 10,000 seats.

“We had an absolutely excellent day on that front. The interest in this team is very clear, very intense,” Tavares said.

As for the future ownership of the club, Selig described the sales process as still “in its infancy.” But a group of more than 20 bidders will begin to receive invitations after the Thanksgiving holiday to review the team’s financial records, with formal bidding to begin soon thereafter.

There is an outside chance the new owner could be identified in time for the next owners meeting in mid-January. A more likely target, however, is the beginning of spring training a month later.

“I’m definitely anxious to see the owner get in and get going and do all the things they need to do,” Selig said.

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