Orioles owner Peter Angelos said yesterday that he has received no promise from baseball commissioner Bud Selig that the Orioles will remain the only major-league franchise in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Angelos' presence on the ownership bargaining committee during the just-completed labor negotiations sparked speculation that he had received assurances the Montreal Expos would not be relocated to Washington or Northern Virginia. But the owner insisted he is depending on "common sense" to keep a second franchise from diluting the market.
"There's no promise," Angelos said. "The studies that we have made and turned over to Major League Baseball clearly establish that if you put a team in D.C., each team will severely impact the revenues of the other, which will mean that neither one will be able to effectively compete in its division. That would not only be foolish, but unsatisfactory for both areas."
Selig, reached by telephone in Milwaukee, also denied that any promises have been made to the Orioles regarding relocation. He has said in the past that he is inclined to be protective of existing franchises, but declined to comment further on the situation yesterday.
Selig and Angelos will be in Chicago today for the ownership vote to ratify the new labor contract. Angelos' opposition to a Washington franchise is not new. He has argued against expansion and relocation to Washington or Northern Virginia for years. But the likelihood of a franchise shift appeared to increase when the owners and players agreed on a four-year labor contract that included a promise to delay baseball's proposed two-team contraction until 2007.
That left Major League Baseball to either continue operating the Expos in Montreal for the life of the agreement or to move the franchise, which the owners took control of during an ownership shuffle that transferred the Florida Marlins to former Expos owner Jeffrey Loria and put former Marlins owner John Henry into position to buy the Boston Red Sox.
Major League Baseball is expected to move the Expos out of Montreal, and there are two potential ownership groups in the Washington area that have been working for years to bring a team to the nation's capital. The Expos were purchased by the other 29 major-league clubs for $120 million but are believed to be worth as much as $350 million if put up for sale - especially if the two Washington groups are forced to bid against each other.
If a franchise shift is imminent, Angelos hopes the owners will look at one of the other viable markets known to be hungry for baseball - Charlotte, N.C., Las Vegas or Portland, Ore. He denied persistent rumors he would eventually be satisfied with a team in Northern Virginia if the Orioles received compensation for lost ticket and broadcast revenues.
"It's not just whether I can live with it," he said. "There's this perception that I'm obsessed with being the lord of baseball in this area, but there will come a time in a year or 10 years when somebody else will operate this franchise. I don't think that any operator of a baseball franchise could live with another team taking away its audience."
Angelos also dismissed any notion that he might be planning to sell the team in the near future.
"This franchise has been in Baltimore for almost 50 years, and I hope it's going to be here another 50 years or more," he said, "but if you bring in another team, it's not only going to hurt the Orioles, but it will hurt the other franchise as well.
"You wouldn't put a team 30 miles from the St. Louis Cardinals or the Boston Red Sox. Why would you put a franchise 30 miles away from the Orioles?"