Major League Baseball officials have contracted a study to determine what the impact would be on the Orioles if a team is moved to the Washington-Northern Virginia area, the Washington Times reported yesterday.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos has vehemently opposed such plans.
The study, confirmed to the Times by knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified, is a significant step in the quest to bring major-league baseball back to that area.
Neither Angelos, commissioner Bud Selig nor other high-ranking baseball officials returned phone calls yesterday.
But in an interview with the Times two weeks ago, Selig, a staunch opponent of franchise relocation in the past, acknowledged that baseball may be ready to allow a team to move to help stop the revenue disparity among clubs.
No baseball team has moved since the Washington Senators left after the 1971 season for Arlington, Texas.
"There's no question that if a club can't make it and demonstrates that it's tried to do everything it can, no question it has to move," Selig told the Times.
Baseball may be gearing up to make its case to allow a team to move to the Washington area, and perhaps also gearing up for a battle against Angelos.
Orioles officials say that 20-25 percent of the 3.6 million fans who attend games at Camden Yards are from the Washington-Northern Virginia area.
Privately, the Times wrote, baseball officials fear that Angelos will file a lawsuit against baseball if a team is allowed to move to the Washington-Northern Virginia area, though no one is clear what grounds he would have. He has no veto power over a team moving there, losing the chance to stop an American League franchise from coming when the league offices were closed last year and consolidated under the commissioner's office.
Currently, it takes approval of three-quarters of baseball's owners for any franchise, American League or National League, to relocate.
The Montreal Expos appear to be in the position that Selig described necessary for relocation. The franchise is reportedly near financial collapse. And many baseball observers in Montreal believe that a dispute between new limited partner Jeffrey Loria, a New York art dealer, and local owners will soon lead to the relocation of the franchise.