They won’t be the Washington Expos. That much is certain.
Commissioner Bud Selig said yesterday that Major League Baseball plans to have a new nickname, logo and uniforms for the Expos in place by Opening Day in April.
MLB officials typically require 12 to 18 months to make such decisions, a span that allows for several tests, focus groups and extensive consultation with licensees and corporate sponsors.
“There’s going to be a name that symbolizes the Washington, D.C., franchise,” Selig said.
Some of those decisions will be made with the input of the Expos’ new owners. MLB plans to sell the team in an auction process expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“You’re getting into some questions that obviously will need to be addressed, and a lot of these will be addressed by the new ownership,” Selig said.
The new owners will have a significant voice in forging the team’s new identity, but MLB executives typically lead the process to ensure the new name and marks coexist well with other team logos and are marketable to fans and sponsors.
MLB’s decision yesterday to award the Montreal Expos to the District touched off debates across the city on the proper name, logo, uniform design and overall identity for the city’s new jewel.
Fan attention in recent months has focused on a few nicknames: Senators, Nationals and Grays. Most unscientific polls in the area have those three names leading the way, usually in that order.
Senators was the name of both of Washington’s former major league franchises. Nationals was a secondary nickname for the first Senators franchise and was used occasionally as the primary moniker during the first half of the 20th century. And Grays recalls the illustrious Homestead Grays Negro League team that achieved much of its success in Washington.
While Senators is favored by many, it also carries significant baggage. The name is still the property of the Texas Rangers, the club the second Senators franchise became upon leaving the District in 1971.
District Mayor Anthony Williams says he opposes the name because the District has no voting representation in Congress.
“We don’t have senators, so we just shouldn’t do that,” said Williams, who wore an expansion Senators cap at yesterday’s festive press conference at the City Museum. “I think the Grays is a great name. It touches on the history of baseball, and given the terrible segregation that occurred in baseball, it would be the final reconciliation of this issue.”
Should the Washington Baseball Club, led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, prevail in the bidding war about to start for the Expos, it plans to conduct an extensive survey of area fans. An online poll has already run for months on its web site, www.baseballindc.com.
The last such regionwide naming poll was conducted by Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin in the mid-1990s to rename the Bullets. That process, however, left many fans cold because the assumption was heavy that Wizards would be the final choice long before polling began.
“The name is going to be what the fans want,” Zients said.
MLB has already claimed www.dcbaseball.com as the official online home for the Washington franchise, and it is likely MLB’s Advanced Media division will begin assuming online addresses for potential nicknames in coming weeks.