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May 29, 2003

Breaking Balls

Relocation Ruckus

by Derek Zumsteg

Relocation's gotten a lot more complicated lately.

Some time ago, baseball narrowed all the potential sites for an Expos move to Portland, Oregon, and two Washington, D.C. bidders: the District of Columbia itself, and a Northern Virginia group. These three groups have traveled to make presentations to MLB about their sites and funding packages. In short, Portland's got no economy but a funding mechanism and sites, Northern Virginia has some money and bad sites, and D.C. has sites but is still working on money. All of them have expended a lot of effort, and have jumped through MLB's hoops like cute, obedient doggies. So Selig decided to try and prod another bidder into the process, taking an open opportunity to say that he'd be delighted if San Juan, Puerto Rico would make a bid. This is another reason city governments shouldn't trust MLB. Just for kicks, though:

  • Expos games in San Juan averaged a little over 14,000 fans a game for this once-in-a-lifetime novelty relentlessly pushed by MLB (capacity just over 17,000).

  • Expos games in Montreal have averaged a little over 11,000 fans a game in a market utterly decimated by decades of being lied to, pimped out, poisoned, and spat upon by baseball.

  • Portland Beavers (Triple-A) attendance this year: 2,500-4,000 weekdays, up to 9,000 or more weekends.

I've said this before, but baseball should seriously consider doing penance for their mistreatment of Montreal by building them a beautiful new stadium and setting them up with a quality ownership group, even if it doesn't come with the Selig Seal of Sycophancy. Revitalizing baseball in Montreal would be a huge victory for baseball's international aspirations, and would buy the league so much goodwill it'd be difficult to shake a stick at it.

The Oregonian reports that baseball's relocation committee is going to tour Portland sites in the next couple of weeks, and I haven't heard anything about San Juan putting together a bid, so for now, we can assume things are moving ahead with the three big hitters.

Meanwhile, Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, D.C. resident and hopeful Expos owner, gave up. The Washington Post reported that he wants to focus on a future basketball team in Charlotte Hornets. Plus, he said: "I think the baseball train is moving significantly slower than I thought it would move." So we've lost a qualified, interesting owner.

Bob DuPuy, MLB's chief operating officer and formerly Selig's personal lawyer, told the paper: "I am sorry (Johnson) thinks we are not moving fast enough. Our discussions with the interested communities are intended to ensure the success of a franchise in whatever location is ultimately settled upon...This decision should not and will not be rushed."

Except, well, that it is being rushed. DuPuy also told AP that "our primary goal is to get it done for next year."

There's no way baseball moves in time for 2004. I know Selig probably fondly remembers the year the Seattle Pilots left for spring training and then didn't come back, but a third of the way into this year it's obvious that we're going to see the Expos owned by the other 29 teams for another year and living in purgatory again.

Back in D.C., though, District Mayor Anthony Williams asked the District Council for $338 million in funds to build a stadium, and the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority published a study claiming that everyone not currently insane or in prison supported the construction of a Pentagon City ballpark (wait, that's the press release, the study is a little more restrained...I'd link to them but they are, respectively, a pop-up window and a Word document).

I've been following the relocation issue closely for a while now, and frankly, I'm on Robert Johnson's side here: baseball's been drilling at this sore tooth for ages now without any kind of courtesy for the people in Montreal (I'd say Expos fans, but we don't want to see Jonah on laughing gas). Relocation's a nasty, painful procedure, but it doesn't have to take years, and baseball's continued inability to be either realistic about the challenges they face or to make a good-but-maybe-not-ideal decision and make it work in the interests of eliminating the obvious conflicts of interest in having a league-owned team shows just how few good brains are operating at the head of baseball.

Can we please put Sandy Alderson in charge of this and get something done?

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