Baseball in D.C.
Baseball, Angelos Close To Deal (WaPo, Ao1)
Major League Baseball and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos moved closer to agreement on a compensation package yesterday as District officials prepared for what they hoped would be a formal announcement today that baseball would return to the nation’s capital after a 33-year absence.
The broad outlines of an agreement were in place last night that would give Angelos certain financial guarantees to offset the impact of a team in Washington. Although the Orioles owner said more discussions were needed before a deal is finalized, District officials said they believed Angelos was no longer an obstacle to the Montreal Expos’ arrival in the city in time for Opening Day 2005.
At long last, D.C. lands Expos (ESPN-AP)
Richard Nixon was president and man was still making trips to the moon the last time the word “Washington” appeared in Major League Baseball’s standings. On Opening Day, April 4, 2005, look for the nation’s capital to return. Baseball was to announce Wednesday that Washington will be the new home of the Montreal Expos, according to a city official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The city was to celebrate the news Wednesday afternoon with a news conference featuring people associated with the old Washington Senators, the official said. “I think we’ll be in a position where we can have a celebration tomorrow,” Mayor Anthony Williams told WUSA-TV late Tuesday. Williams was noncommittal at his regular weekly news conference Wednesday, telling reporters he was still waiting for official notification from Major League Baseball officials.
The announcement comes one day before the 33rd anniversary of the Senators’ final game. The team moved to Texas after the 1971 season, which was also the last time a major league team was relocated.
A crucial hurdle was cleared this week when, according to the city official, baseball reached an understanding with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who had previously objected to having a team relocate just 40 miles from the Orioles’ Camden Yards stadium.
MLB lays out incentive plan for Angelos (Jayson Stark, ESPN)
What is it worth to Peter Angelos to pull up his roadblocks and allow Major League Baseball to move the Montreal Expos 40 miles down the highway from Camden Yards? According to baseball sources, MLB offered the Orioles owner two fascinating incentives:
Baseball is willing to guarantee that the Orioles will earn a still-to-be-negotiated minimum in annual revenues. If their revenues fall below that figure, MLB would make up the difference. Baseball also is willing to guarantee a minimum franchise value for the Orioles. So if Angelos attempts to sell the team and can’t find a buyer willing to pay that amount, MLB also would make up that difference.
Beyond those measures, baseball will help establish a new regional sports network in the Baltimore-Washington area that would enable the Orioles to continue to televise games in Washington and its Virginia suburbs.
Interesting. Of course, this doesn’t exactly give Angelos much incentive to learn how to run a business. He’s managed to ruin one of the most profitable teams in Major League Baseball, despite having perhaps the best facility and a history of winning.
More importantly, I’m still dubious of the logic of bringing a team into a very small city that lacks the infrastructure for handling 81 home games a year. While the conventional wisdom is that baseball does better in urban settings while pro football does better in the suburbs, the traffic and living patterns in the D.C. area would seem to go against that trend. The proposed site in Dulles not only would be easier from a parking and commuting perspective, but is actually closer to more people who would likely go to games. Most of D.C.’s Maryland suburbs would seem a more natural fit for Orioles games and most people who work in D.C. actually live outside the District. Indeed, Fairfax County alone has nearly twice the population of D.C.
Update (1534): The Washington ExposÃƒ©s! I like it.
Update (1626): Breaking News – Baseball Comes Back to District (WaPo)
Commissioner Selig tells Mayor Williams the news is official.
Update (9/30 0925):
Baseball’s Coming Back to Washington (WaPo, A01)
Baseball will return with the cherry blossoms to the nation’s capital next spring when the Montreal Expos become Washington’s fourth major league franchise and its first since the Washington Senators packed up and moved to Texas in 1971. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig made it official a few minutes after 4 p.m. yesterday in a call to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and a crowd of edgy council members and city sports officials gathered in city hall. “Congratulations. It’s been a long time coming,” Selig said when he came on the line. Those seven words brought great relief to Williams (D), who, despite assurances from baseball officials, said he worried all day that the call would not come. “I was always looking for wood paneling, wood tables — something to knock on,” said the mayor as he emerged from the meeting wearing a bright-red Senators cap. “I’m elated. . . . Relieved. Satisfied. We put a lot of time into this, and it finally paid off.”
The Expos are scheduled to play their first home game at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in April, providing the D.C. Council approves a $440 million financing package to build a new ballpark on the Anacostia waterfront less than a mile south of the U.S. Capitol. Yesterday, Williams said that a majority of the council is on board and that he has no doubt that the package will be approved by year’s end. Major League Baseball, which owns the Expos, must take a formal vote on the deal at a meeting scheduled for November. Baseball plans an auction to choose the team’s new owners, who are expected to pick a new name. Williams said yesterday that he will lobby baseball to sell the team to the Washington Baseball Club, a group of hometown investors who have underwritten the city’s baseball quest. For his part, Williams said he prefers the name “The Grays” — an homage to the Negro League franchise that played in Washington for years.
Reaction was quick and joyful. During a campaign stop in Minnesota, even Vice President Cheney said he’s looking forward to Washington becoming a “ball town again.” I think this will be a great boon to the community,” Cheney said. “It will force a lot of us to reorient our loyalties. We’ve all picked up, acquired, become fans of other teams.” Jim Hannan, 65, who pitched for the Senators from 1962 to 1970, was delighted. “This is like coming off the disabled list after 33 years and somebody came up and said, ‘Today, you are activated, Jim. You are playing in the World Series.’ ”
On Opening Day, the Expos will find a very different town from the one baseball abandoned 33 years ago today, when the Senators played their final innings at RFK. Then, Richard M. Nixon was president. The Vietnam War dominated the news. And the nation’s capital was rapidly losing its middle class in the wake of the 1968 riots. In that environment, the owner of the Senators, the late Robert Short, said baseball could not survive. “The only fans at Washington Senators games were the politicians and the pickpockets, and you couldn’t tell the difference,” said Short’s son, Brian, a Minneapolis businessman. Today, Washington lies at the heart of the nation’s fifth-largest metropolitan area, which has more than 5 million residents. It is one of the most highly educated and affluent areas in the country and includes counties whose average household incomes are among the highest in the nation. The city boasts a newly revived urban core, $27 billion in development projects and one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation.
For two wearying years, baseball officials flirted with Washington while courting other jurisdictions that were interested in hosting the Expos, including fast-growing Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; and Northern Virginia. In the end, it came down to the District and Loudon [actually Loudoun – ed.] County, where Virginia officials proposed to build a stadium and a whole new town around it. Virginia claimed that the area far eclipsed the District in terms of wealth and potential growth. In a written statement issued shortly after yesterday’s announcement, Selig tacitly rejected that argument and acknowledged the District’s dramatic transformation. “Washington, D.C., as our nation’s capital, is one of the world’s most important cities,” Selig said. “There has been tremendous growth in the Washington DC area over the last 33 years and we in Major League Baseball believe that baseball will be welcomed there and will be a great success.” Yesterday, Virginia officials congratulated the District, saying the competition had always been friendly. “I urge all Virginia baseball supporters and fans to give their full support to our region’s new team,” said Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority. “We must all put aside our differences and work together to make the Expos succeed.”
In the view of city officials trying to lure the Montreal Expos to Washington, the proposal to build a ballpark had to be especially generous to overcome rival bids as well as baseball’s long-standing reluctance to return a team to the nation’s capital. The result is a stadium deal that is more advantageous to the Expos, in terms of the direct investment required of the team, than the last 10 agreements made by other cities with their ballclubs, according to newly released details of the financing plan. When the District’s offer was outlined to baseball’s executive council in Milwaukee last week, it was one of the most generous deals some baseball officials had seen, a source said. “People were amazed that the District had done the deal that they did,” said one source in the meeting in Milwaukee. “People sitting around the table were amazed.”
In defense of the deal, negotiators point out that the $440 million stadium financing package crafted by District leaders had to be favorable enough to the Expos to win the approval of Major League Baseball, which exercises monopolistic control over team locations. It also had to trump a rival bid from Northern Virginia and compensate baseball for the financial damage claims that were expected from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos. But what District officials apparently did not know was that the Northern Virginia group — at one point this summer rumored to be the front-runner for the Expos — had seen its bid begin to unravel Aug. 25, when its organizers told baseball officials that the state was no longer prepared to guarantee all of the bonds for the project. The sudden weakness of the city’s main competitor could have given District officials a much better bargaining position. Negotiators for the District said, however, that they feared that without an attractive stadium-financing plan, Major League Baseball might simply delay a decision on where to place the troubled Expos franchise, or decide eventually to “contract” or disband it, leaving the nation’s capital once again without a club. But baseball officials had already said publicly that contraction was not an option and that the Expos would definitely be moved. “We thought our competition was them doing nothing — delaying — as much as it was Northern Virginia’s bid,” Stephen M. Green, special assistant to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), said yesterday.
The stadium construction plan presented to baseball reflects the “reality of the sports world,” Williams said this week in defending the terms of the deal. That reality is that professional sports — especially baseball — hold the upper hand in negotiations. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had several times set and missed deadlines for a relocation process that had little transparency. Some thought a team would never come to Washington because of Selig’s personal opposition to putting a team here. “Major League Baseball has bargaining leverage that they shouldn’t have because they are an unregulated monopoly,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economics professor and a frequent critic of Major League Baseball. “Until we have a public policy that it’s not okay for sports leagues to have that amount of power, then these kinds of deals are what we have to live with.”
This is simple supply and demand. There are only so many teams that can exist without diluting the quality of the product. Many argue that the current 30 teams is several too many in that regard. Cities that want the branding that comes with being “major league” have to suck it up. It makes no economic sense, as the advantages a franchise bring are far outweighed by the costs. But prestige has value as well, hard as it is to quantify. Presumably, the amount they are willing to bid is the best approximation of that, however.
Play Ball! Move to Washington Could Make Expos More Competitive (Dave Sheinin, WaPo)
It’s Opening Day 2005. The stands are full at RFK Stadium. The new staff ace, signed as a free agent over the winter, is on the mound for the home team. The new slugger, also a free agent signee, patrols his patch of green grass. A substantial increase in payroll, made possible by the promise of skyrocketing revenues in the team’s new home, has added depth to the bullpen and bench. And the lineup is full of young core players on the verge of stardom.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2005 Washington Unnamed-as-yets. They look much like the 2004 Montreal Expos, but potentially much better.
Three years of operating as wards of the state — owned by Major League Baseball, abandoned by most fans in Montreal, saddled with a bare-bones budget — have left Washington’s new team with the look and feel of an expansion team. Its core players are young. Its veterans are mostly cheap and have been rejected by other teams.
The franchise also is likely to remain under the control of MLB at least through the offseason and perhaps into the 2005 season, as the league goes through the process of selling the team. That means team president Tony Tavares will have his contract extended and remain in control of the day-to-day operation of the franchise, with the majority of the Montreal front office also being retained. In all likelihood, it also means the team initially will be called the Washington Expos, leaving the privilege of renaming the team to its new owners. Omar Minaya’s announcement this week that he was leaving the Expos to return to the New York Mets as head of their baseball operations leaves the team without a general manager. According to league sources, former Baltimore Orioles general manager Pat Gillick has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Minaya. Manager Frank Robinson has expressed a desire to return to the dugout next season, but his status is unclear. Tavares said talks with Robinson — both men have contracts that expire after this season — would wait until after the season. As a Hall of Fame former player, Robinson commands respect in the clubhouse; however, according to team sources, he and Tavares have clashed over Robinson’s past efforts to go over Tavares’s head and negotiate his own contract extensions with Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig. “Would I like to be manager of this team next year? Absolutely,” Robinson said. “I like what we’ve done here and what we still can do. We’re not very far away from something very exciting to happen to this ballclub.”
Montreal Fans Left with Sadness, Anger (Chris Stevenson, ESPN)
When it was over, they stood in the middle of the infield and waved good-bye, then picked up some baseballs and threw them into the crowd. Just like that, the Montreal Expos are gone.
It was a decade coming down the tracks, but the train wreck finally happened. The last life of a team once passionately known here as “Nos Amours” (Our Loves) was sucked away in the murky cesspool that has been their existence at the hands of scheming local owners and Major League Baseball, which has owned the club the last three years. They turned the lights out on the Expos Wednesday night at the Olympic Stadium, a franchise that just 14 years ago was named the best in the game, an organization that set the standard in developing talent.
It appears Le Grand Orange, Jonesville, The Dancer, Parc Jarry, Stoney’s no-hitters, Willie Stargell hitting them in the swimming pool, Ron Hunt getting hit by a pitch (again), Coco Laboy, Carl Morton, The Spaceman, Rodney Scott, Val-De-Ri, Val-De-Ra, the grace of The Hawk, the energy of The Kid, Stan Bahnsen, Mike Schmidt, The Rock, The BUS Squad, Gentleman Jim Fanning, Larry Parrish’s batting helmet flying off (and him catching it behind his back), Eli Wallach, Blue Monday, Jeff Reardon, Cro and Ellis Valentine will be reduced to trivia status for Expos seamheads. A rich history, for anybody who was paying attention.
Get one thing straight: Montreal wasn’t a bad baseball town. It was a baseball town that had bad things done to it. Claude Raymond’s eyes told that story. Raymond, a former pitcher and now roving coach who has been with the club since 1969, could not conceal his sadness, bitterness and disappointment. The 66-year-old’s eyes welled up as he stood on the field after the 9-1 loss to the Florida Marlins apparently closed out the Expos’ existence here. “I never thought I would see this day,” he said. “When Montreal got the franchise, I was so proud of my city. I was with Atlanta then and I was telling everyone what a great city and a great baseball town it was. In August of ’69, I got traded to the Expos. The Braves were in first place and I was going to an expansion team, but I was the happiest guy in the world.” Raymond had 20 saves for the Expos in 1970 and finished up his 12-year major-league career (46-53, 83 saves) with the Expos. He said the franchise started on a downward spiral when original owner and founder Charles Bronfman sold the team in the early 1990s. He said “bad adminstration” turned off the fans. “I’m telling you, the fans are still there,” he said. “They’ve been burned before and I don’t know what it would take to get them back, but now it’s too late. “I still can’t believe it, but I guess I better get to the conclusion that it is happening. It’s hard. This has been my life. I’ve been in baseball for 50 years and you just don’t throw them out the window like that.”
The sad truth is there are probably about as many explanations for the slow demise of the Expos’ franchise as there were people in the stands for much of the last few years.
Take your pick:
# After Bronfman saw where baseball was going and sold the team in the early 1990s, a succession of owners under-capitalized the team, letting key players go and turning off fans.
# With the Expos riding high with baseball’s best record in 1994, the strike cancelled the season and the World Series, killing the prospect of an Expos-New York Yankees fall classic and sending away many disgusted fans, never to return.
# The next spring the Expos ownership was unwilling or unable to keep the team together. Canadian Larry Walker was allowed to walk as a free agent and, in the same week, they traded stars like Marquis Grissom, Ken Hill and closer John Wetteland, among the best players in the league at their respective positions. It is known here simply as “The Fire Sale.”
# Too many promises that weren’t kept. There was talk of an open-air stadium downtown, but it evaporated when the government of Quebec refused to commit funding and the Claude Brochu ownership group didn’t have deep enough pockets.
The Expos once packed the Olympic Stadium to the rafters. Fans sang and danced in the aisles.
There was a touch of that in the finale as a crowd of 31,395 turned out to say good-bye. Apart from a couple of golf balls getting whipped on the field in the top of the third inning, the fans were relatively well behaved. The riot squad was ready to go under the stands after the game, but there was no need for it.
And for all that, the franchise likely would have survived if not for the ’94 players’ strike. The Expos were running away with the division and even the Braves were unlikely to have caught them. A trip to the playoffs would likely have netted them a new stadium and an ability to hang on to their stars. Instead, the Expos because the best AAA club in baseball, producing a stream of superstars that, once they achieved free agency, would wind up on other rosters.