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Baseball owners delay vote on Expos' move

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2004

CHICAGO The Montreal Expos remain in limbo, already out of one home but not quite ready to move into a new one.

Instead of rubber-stamping the Expos' proposed move to Washington as expected Thursday, Major League Baseball owners made the surprise decision to table the vote. Commissioner Bud Selig said the move will still take place, with a vote by owners coming by Dec. 6.

''We will get this done,'' Selig said. ''We just weren't quite ready with a lot of details. We like to have all the details done before we vote. Nothing more than that.''

Baseball officials are so confident the team will be in Washington for its April 15 home opener, in fact, that alternatives weren't even discussed. Season tickets went on sale Thursday morning, and the team announced that manager Frank Robinson had agreed to a one-year contract extension through next season.

''We didn't consider any contingencies, we didn't consider any other options,'' said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer. ''We fully expect to play in RFK next year, and we're planning on it.''

The Expos' agreement with Washington calls for funding for a new stadium to be in place by Dec. 31. But the District of Columbia government has delayed approval of the financing, expressing concerns about costs of building the ballpark along the Anacostia River, about a dozen blocks south of the U.S. Capitol.

The agreement estimates the cost of refurbishing RFK Stadium, land acquisition and ballpark construction at $435 million. The money would come from a new tax on the city's largest businesses, a tax on baseball-related income and lease payments by the team's new owners.

But some D.C. council members have claimed costs would be far higher, though, perhaps $600 million or more. District of Columbia Council Chair Linda Cropp postponed a Nov. 9 vote on the deal, saying the District should spend two weeks seeking private financing.

Approval requires two votes by the council. The first is now scheduled for Nov. 30, with the second vote likely coming on Dec. 14.

''Baseball is watching what is taking place here in the District, and if I were them, I wouldn't vote either,'' said Councilman Jack Evans, chair of the council's Finance and Revenue Committee.

''I've said all along that if the district fails to act, baseball will go elsewhere,'' Evans added. ''Their action, by delaying their vote, only reinforces the fact that if we fail to act, baseball will go somewhere else.''

But baseball officials insisted the City Council had nothing to do with the decision.

''The mayor believes he has the votes to pass, and we expect that to happen,'' DuPuy said.

Selig said the issues that delayed the vote were ''internal,'' describing them as ''housekeeping'' matters. He declined to be more specific, but one could be baseball's negotiations with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Angelos had previously objected to having a team move just 40 miles from his Camden Yards stadium, but he gave his blessing in September after reaching an understanding with baseball that protects him financially. Selig refused Thursday to discuss negotiations with Angelos. But a baseball official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said previously that an appraiser would value the Orioles franchise and the commissioner's office would guarantee its value for a period of time. The commissioner's office also would guarantee Baltimore's locally generated revenue for a period of time and assist in the creation of a regional sports network.

''That wasn't the real reason, but certainly I would hope that everything is completed before we vote so we can move on,'' Selig said of negotiations with Angelos. ''There's a lot of work to do.''

Baseball officials plan to announce by Friday when the franchise will be renamed. Selig favors calling the team by its old name, the Washington Senators, but the Washington Nationals is the leading contender.

The original Senators played in Washington from 1901-60 before moving to Minnesota to become the Twins. The expansion Senators called Washington home from 1961-71, then became the Texas Rangers.

Baseball owners did not vote on the $223 million sale of the Milwaukee Brewers from Selig's family to Mark Attanasio because the commissioner's office has not finished processing the transaction. But Attanasio met with the ownership committee as well as members of the executive council, and Selig said he expected a vote soon, likely by conference call.

''They are proceeding expeditiously,'' Selig said. ''Hopefully we'll be able to bring that to conclusion in the very near future.''

Selig didn't give a timetable on when owners might vote on the proposed appointment of Jeff Moorad as chief executive officer of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Moorad, a high-profile agent, was picked by the team's controlling investors in August to replace founding CEO Jerry Colangelo, but cannot take over until other baseball owners approve.



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