09/30/2004 12:20 AM ET
Selig: D.C. signals end to journey
For Commissioner Bud Selig, the designation of the Washington, D.C., as the future home of Expos on Wednesday was not as much the end of a process, but the conclusion of a long journey.
Selig had just finished his second season as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers when he attended an American League meeting in September 1971 to determine the fate of the second Washington Senators franchise. The first Senators had fled to Minnesota in 1960 and were replaced by their expansion brethren, who lasted another 11 years.
"I'm the only person in baseball left (who was at that meeting)," said Selig, a Milwaukee native, during a conference call with national reporters on Wednesday. "Then Commissioner (Bowie) Kuhn was trying desperately to find an owner to keep the team in Washington. We couldn't. We had to vote to move because we had no options. Considering the move of the Milwaukee Braves to Atlanta, I was physically sick that night, I felt so bad about it.
"So there's redemption today and we really do look forward to bringing the Expos to Washington, D.C. It's a great area. There will be a lot of excitement there, not only this year, but for many years to come."
The Braves left Milwaukee in 1965, spurring Selig, who owned and headed a chain of family-run car dealerships, to energetically pursue bringing Major League Baseball back to his hometown. He accomplished that goal only a year before then Senators owner Bob Short petitioned his fellow AL owners to allow him to move the team to Texas.
It was April 1970 when a Seattle bankruptcy judge allowed Selig and his group of partners to purchase the one-year old Pilots and move them from the Pacific Northwest to Milwaukee less than a week before the start of the season.
The Pilots and Senators respectively were the last two Major League teams to move before the Expos began to pass into history on Wednesday.
Demographically -- from a media market and population basis -- the Washington area is not nearly the one that baseball left for a second time nearly 33 years ago to the day. Combined with Baltimore, it is the fourth media market in the nation and the population of Washington proper has grown from about 1 million in 1971 to 5.2 million today.
"We've taken the first step," Selig said. "I want to say today that there's still a lot of work to be done. But as I told Mayor (Anthony) Williams, I'm going to very aggressively recommend at our November meetings that we go to Washington. I hope that they will clear all the hurdles. It's very exciting to a lot of people to have baseball back in the nation's capital. It's not only a tremendous thing for the sport, but for Washington and the country."
The hurdles aren't necessarily givens.
The Washington City Council must pass a $400 million piece of legislation that will fund a new ballpark in a currently moribund warehouse district just miles south of the Capitol building and on the banks of the Anacostia River.
The Council must also pay for a $13 million facelift for RFK Stadium, which is 43 years old and has been home in recent years only to soccer teams. Aside from a few exhibition games, the old stadium, which is just up river from the new site, hasn't had baseball regularly since the Senators left.
Built into the contract with the District are enough out clauses in case the Council can't make good on its financial promises.
"Baseball is protected," Selig said.
But the Commissioner didn't want to consider what the options might be if the new ballpark isn't funded.
"The Washington people are very optimistic about it," Selig said. "I'm hopeful and they were very hopeful today. They seem confident about their ability to get it done. After all this I'm going to be an optimist that they can get it done, too. And I believe they will."
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.