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Right Field

Diamond Market

By Russ Smith | Posted 6/30/2004

I have little faith that Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig will, as promised, finally resolve the relocation conundrum of the Montreal Expos this season. It’d be gracious of Selig, when he finally does address this embarrassment, to resign at the same time.

On an objective level, I’d prefer to see the Expos wind up in Monterrey, Mexico, although that isn’t likely because of a perceived reluctance of locals to fork over the money it costs to attend a sporting event. The fact that Monterrey’s proposed stadium that would have a capacity of only 30,000 is another strike—not that Boston’s tiny Fenway Park has kept that franchise from prospering. But even if the stands weren’t filled for all 81 games, the choice of Monterrey would not only (if on a minor scale) strengthen relations between the United States and Mexico, but also encourage more of the latter’s superb athletes to make the jump to the big leagues at a level near that of Caribbean-born men who increasingly dominate the game.

However, given potential owner Jose Maiz Garcia’s slim chance at prevailing, I’d choose Washington, D.C., or Northern Virginia as a second choice. It’s claimed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos and much of Baltimore’s media and business community that having the Expos 40 miles away might decrease attendance at Camden Yards by as much as 20 percent. That’s theoretically possible, but taking the contrarian view, I’d suggest the competition would benefit this city’s home team.

Most importantly, it would force Angelos to sell the team to a more visionary individual or consortium, one that would put a winning team on the field and generate the kind of enthusiasm—and spectators—that hasn’t been seen in years. (A new Web site, Selltheorioles.com, is encouraging fans to express their disgust with Angelos’ bungling of the team.)

At the start of the season, I was hopeful that the acquisition of Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez and return of Sidney Ponson might spur the O’s into at least wild-card contention. That hasn’t worked out, since Ponson, as Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote on June 23, “has eaten everything but innings,” and the rest of the pitching staff hasn’t performed as expected. A different owner and management team would’ve recognized this a month ago and perhaps started making significant deals with other teams. Ross Grimsley, acquired recently from the financially strapped Kansas City Royals, isn’t Freddy Garcia.

But I also don’t believe having the Expos in relatively close proximity would result in a revenue disaster for the Orioles. First, the two teams are in different leagues: The Expos wouldn’t have the luxury of playing against spectator cash cows like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Athletics. Second, the assumption that D.C.-area fans would choose one team over the other hasn’t been demonstrated to my satisfaction.

Yes, the Washington Senators struck out twice, last leaving for Texas in 1971, but that was an eon ago in the modern world of baseball, where ballpark gimmickry, free agency, and the exploding diversification of players have altered the game forever. The location of Camden Yards will still be attractive to the number of people who drive here from the District, Maryland suburbs and Northern Virginia. Lifelong baseball fans will be thrilled to have 162 “home” games each year instead of 81, just like in New York, the Bay Area, and Los Angeles. I’d go see the Expos at least five times a year.

And what about the rivalry that would—if the owners field competitive teams—result from having the Expos less than an hour away? Now that interleague play has become a staple of the game, the O’s and Expos would play each other six times a year, and it’s likely that all games would be sellouts.

Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, published an op-ed in the June 23 Sun laying out dire economic predictions for the city if the Expos move to Washington. He claims that not only ticket sales would suffer but radio and television revenues would as well. Fry’s knockout punch, at least to those who agree with him, is “Rumors abound that Major League Baseball is considering a payout to the Orioles if a team were to relocated to Washington. This is tacit acknowledgement of the harm such relocation would do to the Orioles revenue steam.”

That’s an understandable view given Fry’s job. On the other hand, a payout to the Orioles might also be construed as “tacit acknowledgement” of the sway Peter Angelos has over Bud Selig. Angelos, who bought the team in 1993, is obviously free to do as he pleases, despite growing discontent among the O’s local fan base. There could be a compromise in sight: As reported in The Sun on June 18, the 74-year-old trial lawyer now has a hankering for slots, and has negotiated a deal to buy Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County.

I have a better idea. It’s not as if Angelos is a pauper, so perhaps Gov. Bob Ehrlich could convince him to abandon both the Orioles and racetracks and become the state’s first gambling czar.

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