09/29/2004 9:49 PM ET
MLB selects D.C. for Expos
Relocation remains subject to ballpark funding
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Almost 33 years to the date of the Senators' final game in Washington, D.C., the District and Major League Baseball on Wednesday announced that the Montreal Expos are moving to the nation's capital.
The Expos will be the first MLB franchise to move since 1971 when the second Senators franchise left Washington for Arlington, Texas. In choosing D.C. over suitors from Northern Virginia, Norfolk, Va., Portland, Ore., Monterrey, Mexico, and Las Vegas, the league ended a nearly two-year internal search to relocate the team.
|Washington Mayor Anthony Williams celebrates on Wednesday as he announces that the Montreal Expos will be moved to Washington D.C. (Susan Walsh/AP)
"They were very aggressive. They were very tenacious," Commissioner Bud Selig said about how hard the D.C. contingent pursued the Expos. "This was a very impressive bid. It shows their commitment, their dedication. I would say that from a Washington standpoint, this was their finest hour."
The Expos will be renamed and plan to play the next three seasons at RFK Stadium while a new $400 million ballpark is being built at a location along the Anacostia River waterfront near M and South Capitol Streets, which is now the preferred site among the four proposed in the District last year.
RFK Stadium hasn't had baseball regularly since the Senators moved to Texas. The Senators played 10 years at RFK when the oval, two-decked stadium with the roller-coaster facade opened in 1962.
The deal is dependent on the District's City Council passing the funding for the new ballpark, including a $13 million package to refurbish 43-year-old RFK Stadium. It must also be approved by a 75 percent vote of the owners, which is considered to be a formality. The Expos are the first National League franchise to relocate since Selig's beloved Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta after the 1965 season.
Selig said he is very bullish on the Expos' transfer. "I'm going to very aggressively recommend at our November meetings that we go to Washington," Selig said.
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, an ardent opponent of moving the team 35 miles from Camden Yards, has been in negotiations with MLB regarding compensation and the Washington Post reported that the outlines for an agreement are in place.
Selig didn't want to disclose the nature of that agreement, saying only that Angelos had not been an inhibiting factor in the process.
"I have a great deal of affection for Mr. Angelos, personally, as well as for the Orioles," Selig said.
The D.C. City Council now must quickly move to fund the new ballpark by the end of the year before three new council members, who are all against the project, take office. Three pro-ballpark councilmen lost their seats in the recent D.C. Democratic primary.
But at a late afternoon press conference and rally at Washington's City Museum, Mayor Anthony Williams said the ballpark project would provide ample positive results for the city and would be paid for only in three facets -- by a lease payment from the new team owners, taxes on big District businesses, and taxes on revenue generated by the facility.
He also said that the project would generate 3,500 new construction jobs and $15 million a year annually in direct revenue for the city.
"Not one dime for this ballpark is coming from D.C. revenues," he said. "Money that you would expect to fund schools, to fund recreation centers, to fund street repairs will continue to do just that. Look what's happened around new ballparks in Denver, San Francisco and San Diego. The same kind of (development) is going to happen in Washington, D.C."
MLB must also settle a federal lawsuit filed in Florida by the former Expos minority partners, who are seeking an injunction to keep the team in Montreal.
And the Expos must be sold as soon as possible to the highest bidder. A nine-member management team called the Washington Baseball Club and headed by former Texas Rangers minority partner Fred Malek, has long been trying to bring baseball back to the nation's capital and may have the inside track to purchase the team at a price between $200 million to $300 million.
A spokesman for the group said Wednesday that the Washington Baseball Club would be more than ready to purchase the team.
MLB's relocation committee, which has been studying the matter, zoomed in on the District in recent weeks. Members of the committee met for 7 1/2 hours late last month to discuss all facets of the District's proposal and again met for 11 1/2 hours buttoning down details last week.
For months, D.C. and Northern Virginia had been the prohibitive frontrunners to obtain the team, rising above the other contenders.
But the Northern Virginia bid faded. During recent meetings with that contingent, the relocation committee was told there was significant political opposition in the state government to writing the particular bonds it would take to build a ballpark near Dulles Airport. At any rate, state money set aside for the ballpark project in Virginia is slated to disappear by the end of the year.
MLB opted instead to go with the District, the fourth largest media market in the country when combined with the Baltimore area, and certainly the largest without a baseball team.
Wednesday's announcement came almost 33 years to the day -- Sept. 30, 1971 -- that the Senators played their last game at RFK Stadium, a 7-5 loss to the Yankees before 14,460.
The Expos expanded into the National League in 1969 along with the San Diego Padres and have been in Montreal ever since, boasting such stars as Hall-of-Fame catcher Gary Carter, center fielder Tim Raines, right fielder Andre Dawson and more recently outfielders Moises Alou, Larry Walker and Vladimir Guerrero, who left the Expos for the Angels as a free agent last winter.
The Expos played their last home game in Montreal's Olympic Stadium against the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night. They were Canada's first MLB team and will close their 36th and final season as such with a three-game series in New York this weekend against the Mets at Shea Stadium.
During their Montreal tenure, the Expos never ascended to the World Series, coming closest in baseball's two most ravaged strike seasons -- 1981 and 1994. In 1981, the Expos played in the NL Championship Series for the only time. A team replete with Carter, Raines, Dawson and starting pitcher Steve Rogers lost to the Dodgers in what was then a five-game series for the pennant.
In Game 5 at Olympic Stadium, Rogers was used in relief in the top of the ninth and Rick Monday homered to win the game and the series, 2-1. Fernando Valenzuela pitched a three-hitter for the Dodgers.
In 1994, the Expos, 74-40, led the NL East by six games over the Atlanta Braves when the players struck on Aug. 11. Play never resumed that season and the playoffs and World Series were ultimately canceled.
In the years since the strike, the Expos have been buffeted by deteriorating finances and attendance. Attempts by ownership to build a new downtown stadium in Montreal met with severe resistance from local taxpayers and never came to fruition.
The Expos were earmarked for contraction after the 2001 season, along with another MLB team, widely reported to be the Minnesota Twins. But court decisions in Minnesota and a lease that tied the Twins into the Metrodome for the 2002 season forced the owners to change course.
When the owners and Players Association signed a new Basic Agreement in 2002, both sides stipulated to take contraction off the table for the life of the contract, which expires on Dec. 19, 2006.
On Feb. 15, 2002, the other 29 owners purchased the Expos for $120 million from Jeffrey Loria and his minority partners, who at the same time purchased the Florida Marlins. MLB has owned and operated the Expos for the last three seasons.
The Expos' relocation is bittersweet, said John McHale Jr., an MLB executive vice president and member of the relocation committee, whose father once ran the Expos in the club's heyday.
"I would not presume to try and buffer this for the Montreal fans," McHale said. "I can't believe that this is going to be anything but a day of great sadness and wistfulness for them. I was there with my father when this franchise was started. This has been a tremendously bittersweet process for me personally. I can only imagine what the fans are going through, watching their club and knowing inevitably that this day would come. Now it's here."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB columnist Mike Bauman contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.