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League envoy seeks to ease Orioles' pain

Major League Baseball sent a high-ranking emissary to Baltimore yesterday to seek the Orioles' blessing for a competing franchise in Washington, but team owner Peter G. Angelos remained resolutely opposed.

MLB President and Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy, who has been the point man for baseball's relocation effort, met with Angelos at his downtown law office and discussed ways to indemnify the Orioles against potential economic fallout.

Angelos declined to reveal the specifics of what was discussed. He has said he wasn't interested in a deal that would permit another team so close - something he has said would damage the viability and competitiveness of his franchise.

"I've already stated my position," Angelos said, "and my position hasn't changed."

DuPuy declined to comment.

Sources familiar with baseball's deliberations say the sport's executives have suggested several ways to soften the blow, including a cash payment and a mechanism for guaranteeing the Orioles' future resale value. There has even been talk of creating a regional television network that would continue to televise Orioles games to fans in Washington and Virginia - but not Washington's games in Baltimore.

Baseball's executive council met Thursday in Milwaukee at the office of Commissioner Bud Selig to discuss the fate of the Montreal Expos, a distressed franchise that the league bought in 2002 and has operated on a temporary basis. Angelos, who is on the council, attended and urged fellow team owners not to infringe on what he has long maintained as his clear territorial rights.

The Orioles have had the two cities - a lucrative common market of nearly 8 million people - to themselves since 1971, when the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers.

Baseball executives insist no final decision has been made, although they hope to determine next week where the Expos will play. The clear preference seems to be moving the team to a stadium to be built on the Anacostia waterfront in Washington.

Negotiations are nearing a conclusion between baseball's leaders and Washington for a plan to finance and build the new park for an estimated cost of $440 million. The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission met last night and unanimously approved a 30-page memorandum of understanding. The agreement is subject to Selig's approval.

The district's timetable is tight because legislation must be passed before several City Council members leave office Dec. 31. Also, the league wants this to be the Expos' last season in Montreal. A Washington team would play in a renovated RFK Stadium for three years while the new stadium is built.

In another signal that the Expos are expected to move to the Washington area, the minor league Cannons of Potomac, Va., announced that the franchise has entered an agreement to affiliate with the Montreal franchise yesterday.

The Cannons ended an affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds to sign a two-year contract with the Expos. The Cannons said the potential of the Expos' move to the region made this an appropriate time to sign on with the club.

Meanwhile, other cities that have been trying to lure the Expos are growing resigned to the team's going to the capital.

"I think we all understand what the intentions are. D.C. obviously is their first choice," said William Somerindyke Jr., chief executive of the bid by Norfolk, Va., who said he has been in touch with with Selig's office.

"There are a lot of obstacles with it. If they can get it done, and everything was perfect, which is getting the stadium deal that has been proposed, then I think you'll see the team in D.C.," Somerinkyke said. "But I think they also understand that with the obstacles, they're still pursuing the other options to make sure they have contingent plans."

Brian Hannigan, spokesman for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, which is trying to lure the Expos to a proposed stadium near Washington Dulles International Airport, said, "We're not going to concede until we're told to concede."

Other contenders include Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., and Monterrey, Mexico. A late bid was also submitted last week to baseball's relocation committee on behalf of northern New Jersey's Meadowlands sports complex, which is scheduled to lose several tenants in coming years .

Locating a competing franchise near another one is exceptionally rare in modern sports, other than in cases where renegade owners force the issue in court - such as the Raider's Al Davis, who moved his NFL franchise to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland. Former Ravens owner Art Modell won the NFL's permission to move the Browns to Baltimore, but only after he had struck a relocation agreement with the Maryland Stadium Authority and the state filed an antitrust lawsuit to enforce its terms.

In a wave of expansions over recent decades, each of the four major leagues has added new teams but gone to great lengths to prevent territorial overlap.

Angelos has researched legal options, which could include lawsuits that would tie up the transfer in court, according to a source familiar with the owner's preparations.

Baseball has imposed territorial limits to keep teams in the same league from playing too close together, but the Orioles play in the American League and the Expos are in the National League. The two leagues share markets in New York, Chicago, and the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay areas.

But Angelos could raise a number of thorny issues related to his franchise agreement and past assurances he has received from the league.

To head off a time-consuming legal showdown, and an unseemly intramural squabble among owners, baseball executives have raised the possibility of a substantial cash payment - something Angelos has categorically rejected.

Also raised within baseball have been ways to protect the value of the franchise, including a mechanism for estimating the team's value each year on the assumption that it continued to hold a monopoly on the market. Then, if Angelos were to sell, the league would agree to make up any difference between the sale price and its hypothetical value as the region's lone team.

Another scenario would have the league agree to buy the team from Angelos at a predetermined price if the owner wanted to sell.

But Angelos supporters say he is worried about the long-term viability of a city treasure, not money.

"I'm just proud he's battling for Baltimore," said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan. "People should appreciate that. He has Baltimore's best interests at heart, not his own."

Sun staff writers Ed Waldman and Jeff Barker contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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