Thursday, December 16, 2004

This was the release issued by the Washington Nationals about the event scheduled for yesterday afternoon to show off the team’s new duds:

“The Washington Nationals’ uniform unveiling ceremony scheduled for 2p.m. today has been postponed until further notice.”

However, the clown suits being fitted for the D.C. City Council — which, led by chairman Linda Cropp, torpedoed the proposed ballpark financing that was part of Major League Baseball’s agreement to relocate the Montreal Expos to the District late Tuesday night — should be ready soon, as well as those for Mayor Anthony Williams, his staff, baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig, lieutenant Bob DuPuy, crony Jerry Reinsdorf and too many others to name here.

There are enough clowns in this relocation circus to fill a fleet of Shriner cars in a parade.

Hey, maybe those who led the opposition to baseball — after generations of political and business leaders in this area spent the last 33 years trying to get it back — can declare Dec.14 a city holiday, and have a parade with those little cars. Cropp can drive the lead car, with fellow city council members David Catania and Adrian Fenty following.

And perhaps they can have a moment of silence every Dec.14 at Major League Baseball’s New York offices, to commemorate the day the national pastime looked as if it was being run like the Arena Football League.

Cropp’s last-minute ballpark financing plan, with the requirement for 50 percent private financing of the proposed ballpark on the Anacostia waterfront, likely will kill the deal the city has with baseball to relocate the Expos/Nationals to the District — or maybe not. Cropp has thrown the entire situation into astounding chaos, with so many unanswered questions that I’m getting dizzy while I write this.

It would appear MLB, which owns the Nationals, has few if any options available. The deal they have with the District dictates the city has until Dec.31 to pass a ballpark financing plan based on the terms baseball agreed to, which means that Cadillac Bud can’t pick up the phone today and negotiate with anyone else about relocating the franchise until Jan.1 — as if there are many places he could call.

It would be very difficult to resurrect the Northern Virginia effort. Their ballpark financing legislation expires Dec.31 as well, and it would be very difficult to go to the state legislature to renew that plan, particularly since Gov. Mark Warner showed he had no stomach to back baseball when he refused to back the bonds for a ballpark near Dulles Airport. (Yes, we should include a clown suit as well for Warner, whose visions of a presidential candidacy gave him cold feet when baseball came to him to finalize a deal to move the Expos to Northern Virginia).

Cadillac Bud could call the Elvis impersonator about Las Vegas, but Vegas politics are, in their own way, just as bizarre as District politics, and Cadillac Bud could find himself trading RICO stories with some of his new Vegas friends.

Norfolk? Portland, Ore.? Monterrey, Mexico? Northern New Jersey? Haven’t we just been through all this already? And if baseball had any real and attractive option for relocation other than the Washington area, don’t you think it would have moved the team there? That is why this ballpark deal had to be so attractive to Major League Baseball, why it had to be so much more favorable to baseball than in other ballpark deals around the country — baseball did not want to come here. And if they were going to come to the District, it was going to have to be because they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse, if they were going to have to deal with Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Having no other relocation options doesn’t mean baseball won’t say goodbye to the District, though. These are men with giant egos, and in nearly all of the labor disputes over the years in baseball, ego, more than money, drove the owners to act foolishly time and time again and could drive baseball away from Washington, even for this coming season, based on the statement issued yesterday by DuPuy: “The team’s business and promotional activities will cease until further notice.”

If baseball goes ahead and operates the team at RFK Stadium for this one season — and there is no guarantee it will do that — going back to Montreal may seem particularly embarrassing, but the embarrassment ship has sailed on this issue, and the rent would be cheap and the same 8,000 fans who showed up for home games last year would likely be back again. Also, baseball is just one year away from being able to reconsider contraction, something Angelos has been pushing hard for. (And yet another question: What does MLB do about Angelos for this one season if the Nationals play at RFK? Does baseball have to compensate him for that?).

For those of you who don’t understand why owners would be willing to fold a team instead of selling it and pocketing the money, here is why: Provided they get another team to contract, it would mean there would be two fewer teams requiring revenue sharing (though it is reasonable to assume the Nationals in Washington would be a revenue producer quickly), which means less money out of the pockets of revenue-producing teams. More importantly, it would also mean two fewer teams with whom to share the national television, licensing and other money. Those savings would quickly make up whatever profit each team would realize from the sale of the Nationals.

The part of this farce that is not comical is the wall that Cropp and her supporters have erected around the city. One of the battle cries for putting a team in the District instead of Northern Virginia was that the city is the heart of the Washington region — not the suburbs. If the District wants to be the “heart” of the region, then it has a responsibility beyond its borders. If some city government leaders don’t see it that way, fine. Keep putting up the bricks and watch as corporations and other businesses continue to set up shop outside the city and eat, shop and keep their money there, opting not to be part of the circus and the clowns.

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