D.C. baseball: Questions and answers
By Jayson Stark
Ever since the Senators bolted the Beltway in 1971 to become the Texas Rangers, baseball fans in Washington, D.C., have clamored for another major-league franchise.
Now that the commissioner's office is openly discussing the return of baseball to the nation's capital, fans have a legitimate reason to be optimistic. But what needs to happen for the Expos, the Marlins or some other team to move to D.C.? ESPN.com baseball writer Jayson Stark answers 10 key questions:
1. What are the odds of Washington getting a team?
Better than ever, but it's still not safe to bet your Washington Monument postcard collection on it. Commissioner Bud Selig seemed to send a signal that a team in D.C. was inevitable when he said at a January owners meeting that "relocation is coming in the near future and ... I'd have to say Washington is the prime candidate." But there's also a school of thought that Selig was just trying to keep Congress happy. And while people in Washington and people around the Expos now feel remarkably confident the Expos will wind up in D.C., remember that Selig hasn't backed off on contraction yet, either. And if contraction happens, relocation won't.
|Bud Selig says "Washington is the prime candidate" if a team chooses to relocate.|
2. If a team does come to D.C., when would it start play?
We know that MLB has made inquiries about the viability of getting RFK Stadium ready for baseball in 2003, so that's clearly the target date. But if the contraction debate gets tied up in the labor talks, which is likely, that could cause complications. What happens if the labor crisis drags into the winter and even into next spring training? If Selig is still hell-bent on contraction, or uses contraction as a major bargaining chip that doesn't get withdrawn until the last minute, then it's possible the whole matter might not be resolved in time to move one of the contraction candidates to Washington. Simple a concept as it might seem, moving a team involves more than just mowing the field and loading the equipment on the vans.
3. Is it certain the team to move will be the Expos?
If any team heads for D.C. in the near future, that team almost certainly would be the Expos. MLB is so convinced that baseball is dead in Montreal that the Expos have to move if they're not contracted. And if they move, they're a lock to wind up in Washington. But if they cease to exist, then most logical candidate to move becomes the Marlins. Except their new owner, Jeffrey Loria, has been quoted widely as saying he's committed to keeping the Marlins in Florida for the long haul. So it's now his turn to exhaust all his options in pursuing a new ballpark in South Florida. That could take years. And there's no assurance MLB or local government would let the Marlins move even then.
4. How can Selig support contraction and relocation at the same time?
That's a question many people have been asking, particularly in Washington. If the commissioner is really determined to contract, then it would seem he's using the relocation talk for leverage with Congress. But if it's really contraction that his side is using as leverage with the union, then relocation becomes the perfect solution. MLB can turn around and sell the Expos to a group from D.C. and possibly triple what it paid Loria ($120 million) for the franchise. At any rate, it's good politics for the commissioner to sound as if he's in favor of both concepts at the same time, even though one contradicts the other.
|It's possible Vlad Guerrero and the Expos could be playing in Washington in 2003.|
5. Who would own the new team in Washington?
There are still two groups trying to get a franchise: one from Washington, one from Northern Virginia. The most likely survivor is the Washington-based group, headed by investor -- and former presidential aide -- Fred Malek. Also involved with his group is James Kimsey, one of the founders of AOL. The Northern Virginia group has been led for a number of years by William Collins. But Malek and Collins have talked of merging their groups in some way if necessary.
6. Where would the team play?
At least initially, the club would have to play in RFK Stadium for two or three years. But that's not as bad an option as it sounds. The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission has been sprucing up RFK over the last year and a half. The pro soccer team, D.C. United, plays there. And the commision says it could get RFK ready for baseball in 40 days. The question is where the team would play in the long term. And all the momentum seems to be pointing toward a stadium in downtown Washington. The Virginia legislature and governor haven't been particulaly sympathetic to efforts to build a ballpark in Northern Virginia. But in Washington, mayor Anthony Williams has already pledged $200 million toward a new park as soon as MLB commits to putting a team in the city.
7. Could President Bush play a role, given his connections with Malek?
Sure. In fact, he's playing shortstop. OK, no he's not. This is actually another tricky issue. Politically, Bush has tried to stay out of this, other than to let Selig know he would love to stop by the yard and throw out the first ball about three times a week. Publicly, Bush also has expressed support to both groups. But let's be realistic. Malek was once his father's campaign director, not to mention a prominent Republican who was an aide to Presidents Nixon and Reagan. And back when the president owned the Rangers, Malek also was a minority investor. So somewhere down the road, it's logical to think the president's potential influence could become verrrrry useful.
8. What happens if Orioles owner Peter Angelos opposes the move?
Angelos hasn't said much on this topic since Selig gave his "relocation-is-coming" address. But the Orioles owner has consistently said that Washington is the Orioles' territory and that no team should be able to move there without their blessing. There's no question Angelos could block an American League team from moving into D.C. But there is some debate about whether he can stop a National League team like the Expos. So the solution? Gentlemen, start your wallets. No one understands better than Angelos that money talks and there's a price for everything. So if MLB were to sell the Expos to a D.C. group for a hefty profit, guess which owner would stand to get a chunk of the proceeds?
9. How much would the Orioles be hurt by a team in D.C.?
No one knows for sure, especially in Baltimore's post-Ripken era. But Angelos has estimated that 25 percent of the Orioles' attendance comes from the D.C. area. The Washington folks claim that figure is closer to 10 percent. The truth is probably somewhere in between. But the more the Orioles flounder, the more they leave themselves open to losing fans to a team 40 miles up the Beltway.
10. Would the new team be called the Senators?
Best we can figure, the only good reason to call this team the Senators is to lay the groundwork for a revival of "Damn Yankees." Other than that, why would a new team want to take on the identity of a franchise -- make that two franchises with the same name -- that hadn't played a postseason game since 1933? The more likely thinking is: New team, new league, new identity. Which could mean this new club could be called ... what? The Nationals? The Monuments? The Smithsonians? The Bureaucrats? The Filibusters? Sounds like a tremendous contest in the making, just as soon as the previous nine questions on this list get resolved.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.