D.C. Baseball in Trouble
Council Approves Altered Stadium Deal (WaPo, A01)
The D.C. Council approved legislation late last night that dramatically restructures the city’s deal with Major League Baseball by requiring that private financing cover half the cost of a new stadium. Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) shocked her colleagues after 11 hours of debate on a stadium package by offering the private financing amendment about 10 p.m., saying she was disappointed by recent talks with Major League Baseball.
The bill, which was approved on a 7 to 6 vote, gives Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) until June to find the required private financing plan. If that plan is not certified by Natwar M. Gandhi, the city’s chief financial officer, and approved by the council, the stadium bill would lapse. “My basic belief is that there are too many public dollars going into this,” Cropp said. “This will make the mayor seek private dollars more than anything else. I don’t know how Major League Baseball will react.”
Williams and other baseball supporters believed Cropp was nearing a compromise with baseball officials that would keep in place the key terms of the mayor’s pact to use public funding. Williams was furious after the amendment was approved and stormed out of the chambers as Cropp’s council allies spoke in favor of her action.
Cropp said the council could reconsider the legislation next week if baseball officials show they are willing to seriously renegotiate some terms of the agreement. But the move opens another threat to the stadium: Three new council members, all of whom oppose using public funds for a stadium, take office next month.
Those on AM 980, the DC sports radio station, believe Cropp, who wants to be mayor some day, is piqued that MLB hasn’t shown her the proper level of respect. While some believe private funding is possible, many believe this is the end of baseball in D.C.
Famed sportswriter Thomas Boswell is one of them.
Late Tuesday night, in the 11th hour of a marathon D.C. Council meeting, chairman Linda W. Cropp blew to smithereens the deal that MLB thought it had in place with Washington to build a ballpark on the Anacostia waterfront. With that single blow, which leaves baseball no alternatives, the return of major league baseball to the nation’s capital is now dead.
The bits of charred ash and shattered fragments that you see falling from the sky are the remnants of the destruction that Cropp wrought. With one amendment to a stadium-funding bill, she demolished the most basic pillar on which the District’s agreement with baseball was built. By a 10-3 vote, the council demanded that at least half of the cost of any new stadium be built with private financing, which does not exist, rather than public funding, as stipulated in D.C.’s deal with baseball.
A stadium in search of hypothetical funding, funding that may never be found, is not a stadium at all. It is just a convenient political lie. The entire purpose of baseball’s long search for a new home for the Expos was so the sport could sell the team. Who is going to buy a team to play in a stadium that isn’t funded and may never be? Nobody. Nobody on earth. Now, thanks to Cropp, baseball’s entire motive for moving the ex-Expos to Washington — to sell the team — has been erased. Any solid deal in any town is now better than what Washington is offering — which is nothing.
We shall see. As I understood it, there were really no legitimate contenders for the team as the process drew to a close. Northern Virginia was deemed unsuitable for logistical reasons and adequate financing from the state legislature was not forthcoming. The same was true for Las Vegas, which has the added problem of being home to legal gambling.
Update (1203): MLB expected to reject ballpark financing plan (ESPN-AP)
“We will review the amendments and the legislation as passed and have a response tomorrow,” said Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer. One response came almost immediately: The team postponed a news conference scheduled for Wednesday to unveil its new uniforms. No explanation was given.
If the law stands, baseball’s likely response would be to have the team play the 2005 season at Washington’s RFK Stadium, where it would be known as the Nationals, while baseball’s search committee resumes negotiations with cities that desire the team. One option could be Las Vegas, which was among the cities competing for the Expos and is still lobbying for a team. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman campaigned at last week’s winter meetings, arriving accompanied by showgirls wearing feathered headdresses.