Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Frank Robinson Day

It's Frank Robinson's birthday, so let's take a look at his record. I think that Frank's the most underrated great player in baseball history, though I realize that statement is so full of subjectives as to be almost meaningless (who counts as a "great player"? How do you measure underratedness?). Anyway, I see three reasons for this: 1) the press didn't like him 2) he spent the bulk of his career in Cincinnati and Baltimore, which ain't exactly New York 3) generally played in a pitcher-friendly era. Go look at those OPS+ numbers, which adjust for ballpark and league. Very impressive. The dude has more homers than Mark McGwire, but your average fan sure doesn't know it.

What the average fan might know is that the great Robinson is currently the manager of the Li'l Orphan Expos, which provides a nifty segue into this two-day-old Post article from Dave Sheinin.
If and when the Montreal Expos are moved, somebody somewhere is going to be getting a pretty good franchise -- one that is chock full of solid, young players under club control for several more years (Jose Vidro, Nick Johnson, et al.), a farm system full of highly touted prospects and a refreshing lack of debt obligations in the form of long-term contracts.
If he hadn't named names, I'd think Sheinin was talking about the Indians. It's interesting that both the guys he names as "solid" are currently on the DL and out for the rest of the season. Young? Vidro is currently 30 years old; young for a pope, but not for a ballplayer. When he was traded from the Yankees in the offseason, I commented that, given his grisly injury history, Nick Johnson was in danger of suffering through an Erubiel Durazo-esque career. Now that sounds like irrational optimism. Furthermore, everyone who knows anything about prospects (all of whom are not me) makes the Expos' farm system sound like something out of Steinbeck, if not Lovecraft. He's right about the contracts. Livan Hernandez and Jose Vidro are the only Expos signed to significant, long-term deals, and those guys are both worth having.

The main focus of the piece is on general manager Omar Minaya, whom Sheinin believes is worthy of being kept in his position by whoever the new owners might be (let's call them "Not Bill Collins"). I still haven't decided where I stand on this. In my ideal scenario, Not Bill Collins manages to pry one of those clever young men out of Cleveland to rebuild the farm system and whatnot. That aside, and given that Paul DePodesta is not likely to leave LA, Minaya might be a good choice.

The biggest mark against Omar is the Colon trade. In June of 2002, Minaya sent Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Lee Stevens to Cleveland for 17 games of Rubenesque right-hander Bartolo Colon. Colon was effective for Montreal, putting up a 3.31 ERA in 117 innings, but the Expos didn't get into the playoffs or anything. Omar wound up hefting Colon over to the White Sox in a three-way deal, getting Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer in return. Lee, Phillips, and Sizemore aren't All-Stars at this point, but all three are or have been in the majors, and they're 26, 23, and 22 respectively. Those three would go a long way to making Sheinin's rosy picture of the Expos' farm system look a little less delusional. Also, Rocky Biddle sucks.

So what does Minaya have in his favor? Well, two consecutive 83-79 seasons under bizarre and difficult condiditons, for one thing. I don't know much about the prospects, but Chris Kahrl of Baseball Prospectus does, and she's given rave reviews to Minaya's recent moves. Given that the alternatives would include Dan Duquette and Syd Thrift, I have no problem with Omar Minaya as the first GM of the new Senators.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Happy Birthday Mary Shelley!

It's a very special day for Mary Shelley, born today in 1797. As you probably know, Shelley wrote the novel and song Frankenstein. I can't decide which I like more.

There's not been much out there the last couple of days. All the good stuff happened on Friday. I can't find it online, but I could have sworn I saw an article in the Saturday or Sunday Post about MLB trying to give the Zombie Loudoun Cabal one last chance to prove that their house is in order. We all know that zombies can't do much except express their desire to eat brains, so I'm sure it didn't go well.

Thom Loverro doesn't appreciate Jack Evans' moxie like I do. From yesterday's Times:
[Evans'] strong-arm act has turned off baseball officials in the past, and the threat of refusing to allow the use of RFK — however ludicrous it may be for the city to turn down revenue) — only will add to their opinion of Boss Jack.
Anybody know anything about this? Or is it just that Evans won't fork over the money until MLB forks over the team? I don't get how MLB could say no this guy - just look at him! Look at his sneer of cold command! Look on his works, Bill Collins, and despair!

The next bit is important, but long, so I'll summarize with the occasional block-quotation. The Loudoun bid, as we know, is in tatters. DC's financing plan requires District businesses to kick in $18-20 million a year, and they're not going to be willing to do that unless the stadium is right downtown; RFK is out.
. . . according to Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission, [the RFK site] is not under consideration. "We're not going to build a stadium at RFK," he said. "It will be a downtown site."
But if this is true, DC is in just as much disarray as NoVa, since:

. . . that site — whether it is New York Avenue in Northeast or the Benjamin Banneker site in Southwest — has not yet been decided upon or perhaps even secured, and so neither has the far more expensive costs for any of those sites been presented by city officials.

Loverro acknowledges that these problem will work themselves out if DC is awarded the Expos, but claims the same is true with Loudoun. I don't know about that; the speaker of the VA house was pretty definitive in his rejection of moral obligation bonds.

Loverro's article is a splash of cold water, but I'm still confident. Whatever happens, I hope it happens soon. I started this blog in June only because I thought it was only a matter of team before the Expos were awarded to the capital. The intervening months have been rough on me. Here's a picture of me in June, and here I am now. I want my youth back, Selig.

Author Bijan Bayne has a website/blog at www.bbayne.com, and included is a really good article on why baseball ought to return to DC. Pretty much any argument against DC baseball in general is refuted here, and Bayne has an impressive grasp of the history of the issue. Check out the article and the blog, which is wide-ranging and very interesting.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

I Hear Dead People

Walking around like regular people. They don't see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead.

Proponents of bringing Major League Baseball to Virginia have backed away from plans for a 450-acre ballpark development in Loudoun County and are instead pushing a dramatically scaled-back version of their Diamond Lake project on a fraction of the land and without the proposed lake.
So, while the Zombie Virginia Baseball Club desperately tries to convince everyone that they're not shambling revenants, Jack "Effing" Evans starts shooting silver bullets (pardon my mixed monster metaphors).

"The entire political leadership in this city has stood behind this project and committed as such to Major League Baseball," Evans said. "In Virginia, the governor can't get away from this fast enough."
DC even came up with its own poll to counteract the one I talked about last time.

District officials yesterday released the results of a city-commissioned poll showing 82 percent support among area residents for a proposed ballpark in Washington compared to one in Loudoun County.
Just to show fair-minded I am, there are some serious flaws in this one as well. For one thing, they're asking a different question. The Service Employees International Union poll asked if DC should pay for the park. This asks if the park should be in DC or the middle of nowhere. They didn't poll Loudoun residents - neither one of them *rimshot*. It doesn't matter; I don't think that last poll needed much counteracting. It doesn't seem to have gained traction except with anti-DC diehards, and its flaws are obvious. If they're not, scroll down and I'll tell you about them.

Evans also revealed some details of the mysterious funding plan, which turned out to be not so mysterious.
The exact numbers have not been released, in part because the city has not decided among its four remaining site candidates — the RFK Stadium property, Benjamin Banneker Park in Southwest, M Street Southeast and New York Avenue Northwest — or determined final building costs for any of them. But borrowing $300 million would require about $25 million in yearly debt service, and going up to $400 million would require about $30 million annually.
About $10 million of that debt service bill would be paid by ballpark-related sales taxes. Between $3 million and $5 million, would derive from the team owner lease payments. The rest would be paid in gross receipts taxes by large District businesses, most likely those with a minimum of $2 million in annual revenues.
We already knew that, right?
Evans — in part responding to a recent poll commissioned by the Service Employees International Union showing skepticism for the city's funding plan for baseball — insisted money would not be siphoned from the city's general fund.
"There is no pot of money that is sitting under the mayor's desk to pay for this. There isn't one dime anywhere," Evans said. "This happens because of the revenues you create at the venue, and as for the businesses, they're in because they asked to be. I wouldn't do it otherwise."
I like this Jack Evans - he's got moxie. He reiterated the threat to make RFK unavailable the Cabal, but I don't see it happening. If by some miracle they get the team, that's just too much money for the SEC to turn down. Still, moxie.

Other stuff. Portland is still plugging away, sort of. Check out Field of Schemes on their just-revealed plan.
If the plan somehow has legs, it's less likely to be used for the Expos than to lure another disgruntled franchise like the Oakland A's, Minnesota Twins, or Florida Marlins. Or more likely, given Portland's smallish media market, as a bludgeon to convince those teams' present homes to cough up some gruntlement.


Bob and Jerry's bitchin' end of summer roadtrip apparently won't take them to Vegas. That whole bid's a joke, and not a very funny one. A Sinbad joke.

Eric Fisher of the Times was on Baseball Roundup this morning (10 am Saturday on 980 AM), and he said the Relocation Committee makes their recommendation next week. I'm becoming less skeptical by the day that we'll finally get an announcement.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Public is an old woman. Let her maunder and mumble.

Who said that? No fair Googling.
I'm under time constraints, so this will be quick.

The Washington Post reported on a poll on the front page of the Metro section showing that DC residents don't want public funds to pay for a ballpark.
The poll, conducted in June by the Service Employees International Union, which opposes the proposal, found that 70 percent of those surveyed oppose public funding, and more than half strongly oppose it.
Two things should hit you right off. This poll is two months old, and it was conducted by ballpark opponents. If this were a poll about a conventional political issue, those factors alone would be enough for most people to dismiss it. The fact that the Post thinks it merits the placement it got makes me worry about future coverage of the issue.
Generally, however, [the Mayor] is proposing to sell bonds to finance stadium construction and repay the debt -- at a rate of about $25 million a year -- through a combination of dedicated taxes, including sales taxes on stadium-related items such as parking, souvenirs and tickets, and a new tax on business.
Nobody's proposing taking any money from the orphanages to build this stadium, and I wonder how much the 70 percent would drop if people realized that. But it might not matter: the current City Council will remain, regardless of what happens in various reelection campaigns, until January 1, and Jack Evans has assured us repeatedly that he has the support to pass financing. The mayor could conceivably push this thing through without his constituents having a word to say about it. But I hope it doesn't come to that, and I'm sure Williams does too.

In other news, DC and NoVa people are both saying that a decision on the Expos could come in two or three weeks. The NoVa reps were no doubt speaking through a oujia board from beyond the grave, because the Loudoun bid is dead. Anyway, they're saying Labor Day. Given MLB's history with deadlines and the fact that there's no mention of the RICO suit, I continue to cherish my skepticism.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Moral Obligation: A Tragedy in Two Parts

It's a good thing that everyone's acknowledging that DC/Northern Virginia are the overwhelming favorites, because both bids are looking pretty shoddy right now. One at a time:

There are three handy summaries of the relocation honchos' meeting with DC officials yesterday: the Times, MLB.com, and the Post. They all say pretty much the same thing, with one important exception. This here's from the Post's Thomas Heath:

League officials and some owners, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said baseball would prefer to move the Expos to Loudoun County, which would allow the league to take advantage of the Washington market at minimum injury to the Orioles . . .

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who briefly attended yesterday's meeting, said the District has backing among some in baseball, but he said league officials are still looking at Northern Virginia in hopes of avoiding a confrontation with Angelos.

I don't know what to think of this. Just yesterday we were informed by Neil deMause (whose name I've been misspelling. Sorry) that it wasn't about Angelos. This says it is. Furthermore, regular readers of this blog are well aware that Angelos doesn't want Loudoun County any more than he wants DC. Both cut into his broadcast range, and that's where the scrilla is.

Who's wrong, then? No doubt the committee is split at the moment; we've heard that from several different sources. I'm skeptical of deMause's theory and all others that attribute a Master Plan to MLB's actions. I think that simple incompetence and indecisiveness are stronger factors in this process than many realize. What I don't understand is why MLB officials who are concerned about facing off with Angelos think that Dulles is going to make him happy. Putting the Expos in Loudoun County guarantees a poorer team than you would have in DC while keeping Angelos pissed off. Excepting a relative handful of Virginians, nobody wins.

HOWEVER, all this is now perfectly academic. Moral obligation has killed the Loudoun bid. Even as MLB officials met with the Cabal at Appomattox Courthouse, what little chance those clowns had of getting funding ran out the back door. From WTOP.com:

Senate Finance Chairman John Chichester (R-Stafford) said a private business like a baseball club should not benefit from the state's moral obligation bonds, which have traditionally been used for local water quality projects and other public works.
The article details how all this bond stuff works; I have only the flimsiest understanding, so I won't insult you by trying to explain it. The result is that Loudoun is seriously damaged while Norfolk is actually strengthened. This could be bad news for DC and good news for Angelos, but I still think that the Norfolk bid, while adorable, has little to no chance to succeed.

Here's where we stand now: Major League Baseball came into this week with two theoretical bids to choose from, nice plans without actual legislation behind them. This is obviously a situation they don't like, but spending another year in Montreal is a situation they like even less (I hope). Now one of those theoretical bids has been downgraded to delusional, probably terminal. DC's theoretical offer is the best thing they have going, but we'll see if it's good enough.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Montreal Stand-Off

Reinsdorf's back in town. Much as I crack on MLB, it's nice that he's out doing his relocation work instead of finding himself a competent GM. Anyway, this isn't particularly newsworthy. DuPuy said at the meetings that they'd be talking again to DC, NoVa, Norfolk, and Vegas, and so they are.

In a continuation of what I was talking about yesterday, the Washington Times printed an editorial today in opposition to public ballpark financing.
Why offer the owners heavily subsidized housing when Washington demographics prove strong enough to sustain a new team and a new home? The city should neither increase taxes nor use tax dollars to finance a new stadium.
This is pretty interesting. Well, not the editorial itself, but this: yesterday, leftist Ralph Nader declared his opposition. Today, the righty Washington Times has done the same. So who's in favor, aside from single-minded baseball fans? I'm seriously asking here. It seems like all the most outspoken people are invariably against publicly-funded stadia, yet they keep getting built. I'm no poli-sci type, so I really have no idea.

Neil daMause of Field of Schemes had a story in Baseball Prospectus about the Expos' relocation. Unfortunately, it's accessible only to subscribers, but he offers a precis here at his site. DaMause maintains that Peter Angelos actually has very little to do with the endless delays. As I've mentioned from time to time, he has no legal standing; DC is not in his MLB-demarcated territory. Even if it were, the same 75% of the owners who need to approve a franchise shift could override the Orioles' territorial rights. DaMause also puts the smack down on Angelos' fanciful claim that a DC team would cost him $40 milion.

So, what's the hold-up? Guaranteed stadium funding. That's it. If the Cabal manages to get all their land and get those bonds through the House, they get the Expos. If Mayor Williams somehow reveals and then passes his financial plan, DC gets them. Who's going to blink? Whoever it is, I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't happen for some time yet. Let's not forget that the Commissioner-4-Life bought and moved the Seattle Pilots within a week. I don't see either group coming up with the goods in the next month, but there's no way MLB wants to keep the Expos in Montreal next year. They could make some money in DC next year, and the Council would be more likely to deliver once the Senators have captured all our hearts at RFK. Therefore, my feeling right now is that we'll see the Expos at RFK next year without new ownership, but don't put any more stock in that than you would in a Will Carroll prediction.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Pronounced with an "Umpty"

They've swept away the mess of empty Hennessy bottles and half-eaten crackers and licorice left by the owners in Philadelphia. Sadly, along with the departure of the owners comes the end of the media's intense interest on the plight of the Expos, DC, and Ryan. I was spoiled last week; there were newspaper articles every day, TV news reports, and even a report on Cold Pizza (I didn't watch it in spite of the presence of the reporter who tried to seduce Leon on Playmakers).

But I don't need no fancy-pants reporters to tell me what's going on! You can tell this by my authentic, gritty double negative. I'm checking in with the people, hearing the voice of the street. I don't know if either Duke Street or East-West Highway counts as the street, but they're streets nonetheless. I've got my finger on the pulse of DC, my stethoscope over the ribcage, and my glaucoma test pointed at the eyeball. You want to know what the people are talking about? Here it is: "JoeGibbsJoeGibbsJoeGibbsJoeGibbsJoeGibbsJoeGibbsJoeGibbs!"

Not everyone is talking about Joe Gibbs. No, I'm lying. Everyone is talking about Joe Gibbs, but some people are also talking about other things. Among them is Ralph Nader, the poor man's Ross Perot. Ralph is upset that the District is planning to spend a bunch of money to build a stadium for the Senators, as he details today in the Washington Times.
How did Mayor Tony Williams decide that D.C. government should get in the business of entertaining its citizens as opposed to educating them, and providing other essential public programs and services that benefit D.C. residents? Mr. Williams' plan for $383 million in public money to bankroll a stadium to lure a profit-motivated, monopoly entertainment corporation like Major League Baseball is corporate welfare run amok.
It goes on like this for a while; feel free to read it and let me know how it turns out. I only mention this because of this here idea: the more anti-ballpark types who come out of the woodwork, the better it looks for DC baseball. Ralph Nader wouldn't be bothering trying to end of the scourge public stadium financing if he thought it weren't going to be happen in his neck of the woods, and he's not the only one complaining. Plus I don't think he'll be any more successful in this endeavor than he was in trying to free us from the tyranny of the two-party system.

Another moderately good sign: the website of the Washington Baseball Club for months featured a Times article from May on its front page. Now, buoyed by the profile in the Post and the knowledge that the Loudoun Cabal is a national laughingstock, the Club is linking to all of the copious articles we've had in last week or so. Also, you can go there and vote for the team name. But if you don't vote Senators or Grays I call you names, so do the right thing.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Bodley Waves the White Flag

The tide is turning, and there's no better evidence of that than Hal Bodley surrendering like a Frenchman.
Washington, D.C., has emerged as the leading candidate in its efforts to land the Montreal Expos, while Northern Virginia, a former favorite, is foundering, three people with knowledge of the relocation process told USA TODAY on Wednesday.
Sacre bleu! C'est bon fromage! Perhaps a little background is in order: back at the end of June, Hal Bodley submitted a truly atrocious piece of journalism, one so blatantly slanted that I still have dreams that I'm testifying before Congress about it. In writing this story ranking the contenders for the Expos, he obviously started by deciding that Loudoun County ruled, then brutalized the facts until they fell into line. Maybe it's that USA Today is based out in Cabal territory, or maybe Hal Bodley is just out to get me. Whatever the reason for his preference, it is heartening indeed to see a NoVa partisan admitting that DC's in front. I must also give him props for using "foundering" where most would have written "floundering."

Meanwhile, Off Wing Opinion has an extensive run-down of DC's situation, among other things.
What does it all mean? I'm at a loss these days, other than to say it's clear that Major League Baseball still hasn't found a deal it's completely satisfied with.
DuPuy's comments yesterday make it sound as if MLB has come to terms with the fact that they're not going to get exactly what they want and will settle for the best of the four (DC, NoVa, Vegas, and Norfolk).

Here's something I should have put up a while ago: Business of Baseball has a really nifty summary of the relocation candidates. It's got links, photos, maps, the whole megillah.

I have been informed of the website version of the Beyond the Shadown of the Senators, the superbly edutational book by Brad Snyder about the Homestead Grays. It's right here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Update!

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this, even though it scarcely qualifies as news. It's important, I suppose, in that DuPuy is finally saying what we've known for some time.

Trying to get the best possible ballpark deal for the Montreal Expos, Major League Baseball instructed its lawyers to press ahead with negotiations involving four of the areas bidding for the team . . .

A baseball official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the meeting will be set up with Northern Virginia; Washington, D.C; Las Vegas; and Norfolk, Va.

See what I mean? It's nice that DuPuy is making it official, but it isn't shocking or anything that San Juan, Monterrey, and Portland are out of it. MLB realizes that no one is going to be as dumb as Tampa (why isn't that proverbial? "Man, that Paris Hilton is dumb as Tampa!") and build a stadium before getting a team. It's also a good sign that Angelos is opposed to fully half of the finalists, indicating that he won't be the deciding factor. Alright, there's another Family Guy on, so goodnight.

"We're going to get rid of Montreal"

The owners are all saying that Bud Selig's a great commissioner because of his consensus-building skills and Midas touch. Statements like this make me think that his greatest strength is tact.

The owners meetings are here, and suddenly the media are interested in the Expos. Well, the relocation of the Expos; I don't see USA Today running profiles of Rocky Biddle and Endy Chavez. The last two days have seen a proliferation of relocation articles, with few of them offering anything you didn't already know. I'll discuss a few of them in some detail, then provide a round-up of the also-rans (and cub reporter Hal Bodley's scribblings).

The Washington Post had an editorial that totally stole my line of reasoning, which I stole from Marc Fisher, who works for the Post, so what am I complaining about?
THE BEST ARGUMENT for bringing major league baseball back to the nation's capital lies on the other side of the continent, in the San Francisco Bay area. There the San Francisco Giants, playing in a glamorous new stadium, are on a pace to draw 3.2 million fans this year. Meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics, in an old stadium not well suited to baseball, can expect to bring in more than 2 million for home games. And keep in mind that these two stadiums are only about 17 miles apart, not 35 or 40 or whatever distance would separate a Washington area team from the Baltimore Orioles.
This is an important point to make; Selig often says that the A's being allowed to move to Oakland was a mistake on MLB's part, and he sees parallels in relocation to DC.
One reason both clubs can do well in the same area is that both play good baseball. That could have something to do with a stimulant not currently available in the vast market where Peter Angelos would like to maintain his monopoly (a market containing over a half-million more people than the Bay area). The stimulating factor is called competition, and the Orioles might benefit from a bit more of it -- as would Washington's new team and all of baseball, for that matter.
Yeah! Both Bay area teams have a good shot to make the playoffs this year. The Giants made it in three of the last four years, and the A's in four of the last four. The O's face a greater threat from their own management than from outside competition. Previous iterations of this argument can be found in this Marc Fisher chat and in this post by me, Ryan.

Major League Baseball's website had a handy overview of relocation as it stands today.
DuPuy said that MLB owning and operating the Expos again next year for the fourth consecutive season, either in Montreal or elsewhere, is not an option.
We'll see. I remain unconvinced.
The Virginia bids -- Northern Virginia and Norfolk/Hampton Roads -- are now up against a 3 1/2-month deadline because state funds set aside to help build a ballpark in any part of the Commonwealth go away at the end of the year. At that point, both bids would evaporate.
Tick-tock.

"Vegas will be a great market for baseball someday," [Rangers owner Tom Hicks] said. "It's not quite large enough yet and it's one of the fastest growing cities in the country. I can see that in the next five to 10 years, there is a chance baseball could be in Vegas."

Take THAT, Vegas! We can definitely cross Monterrey and San Juan off the list. Portland is done and Norfolk is unlikely. Hicks just put a stake in Vegas' heart, so that leaves us with DC and NoVa, and NoVa is just silly.

The Washington Times reports on what's going on behind the scenes.
With little fanfare or publicity, both Washington-area camps are negotiating term sheets with baseball that outline plans to build a new ballpark and lease it to the Expos. Whether and when MLB will sign either set of documents remains a mystery. But it is clear from both sides of the Potomac River that talks with baseball have advanced much further than at any previous point.
I've done enough block-quoting, but Eric Fisher goes on to report on the problems facing both bids (e.g., one has yet to release a financing plan, the other is backed by a bunch of incompetent liars).

Here's some other stuff, quick-like:
  • Norfolk is getting desperate while remaining delusional.
  • Cub reporter Hal Bodley thinks they should go ahead and move the Expos. He's getting paid for this!
  • The Baltimore Sun has another run-down of who'd vote against relocation to DC/NoVa. I already talked about Ringolsby's, and then Ray Ratto of SF had one. They're all a little bit different, so I think they're guessing.
  • The Post ran a profile of the Washington Baseball Club yesterday and one of the Evil Virginia Baseball Club today. I might have some thoughts on these in the next couple of days. Short version: we win.

Discussion question: would Bud Selig have such a bad reputation if he didn't look so rumpled and awkward all the time?


Monday, August 16, 2004

$400 Million Ain't Nothing to Jack Evans

Reader StevenJB presents a perfectly plausible scenario for the MLB running the Expos in DC next year here in the comments to my last post. I'm of two minds about this idea; on the one hand, my pipe dream of seeing Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, and Adrian Beltre sporting the W next year is doomed, but on the other, my pipe dream of teaming up with Nick Johnson to fight crime remains intact. Go read it.

DC Councilman Jack "the Ripper" Evans dropped some bombs today. You ever seen Breakin'? This was like the part where Kelly finally teams up with Turbo and Ozone to out-dance the Electro-Rock Crew. Evans spins around on his head and dances like robot (metaphorically speaking) here on the Washington Business Journal site, in an article entitled Take N. Va. Out of the Ballgame.
Every new baseball stadium built in the past 15 years, including Camden Yards in Baltimore, has been built in a city, not in a suburb. This has contributed to their success and to the success of baseball. Stadiums in cities provide a convenient location for everyone in the metropolitan area to get to and provide additional activities for those attending the games.
Yeah!
Contrast this with the Dulles site that has no Metro access for at least 10 years, probably longer, and no ready access to anyone except those in the outer reaches of Northern Virginia!
Hell yeah!
First, the council is in total support of the Expos relocating to the District. Second, the necessary financing plan for the ballpark will go through my budget and finance committee and then the entire council. When we get the team, we will introduce legislation, hold hearings and quickly pass the needed financing plan.
Preach it!

In contrast, Virginia's financing plan relies totally on the stadium and a village built around it paying for itself. All of the estimates are based on regionwide attendance which Virginia, given the Dulles ballpark location, is not going to get. At best, the whole Virginia financing plan is wishful thinking.

You suckas got served! This is pretty big; Jack Evans has been held up as a paragon of fiscal responsibility and all that stuff that screws up ballpark construction. I'm much relieved that he sounds more like the kind of guy who would hire supermodels to wash his fleet of Bentleys with Dom Perignon (MLB, unfortunately, is looking for the kind of guy who's willing to stockpile the Champagne and supermodels in the hope that the Bentley dealer shows up with the merchandise) (in other words, Tampa).

This article is a clear reflection of a shift in momentum, or rather the gradual grinding-to-a-halt of the Loudoun bid. First there was the revelation that the Cabal doesn't own the Gravel Pit. Then the Speaker of the VA House micturates all over their parade. Then Jack Evans comes out and promises that he's got the money as long as MLB has the stuff. Hey Pedro, I've got a fold-out couch you can crash on.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

RICO Suave

Not to navel-gaze or anything, but I've been thinking about how pretty soon everything I've blogged for the last two months is going to be completely worthless (except for the Latin team names, of course). I take in solace in the fact that, whatever MLB eventually announces, Will Carroll is already wrong.

I just heard Brad Wilkerson on the Baseball Show on ESPN Radio. The main topic of conversation was the 2000 Olympics, but they discussed relocation a bit. Bwilk (that's his nickname. He doesn't know it yet) said he has no idea where the Expos are going, and he sounded pretty bummed. He really likes playing in Montreal.

Jayson Stark never fails to cheer me up. His latest Rumblings and Grumblings column has a hefty chunk in the middle pertaining to us.
Peter Angelos' cries of protest get louder by the day. And that, says a longtime
Angelos watcher, "usually means things are not going his way."
That's exactly what I've been saying! I didn't get all that upset when Angelos flew off the handle and starting bitching about DC, and that's why. He wouldn't be talking like that if he were winning.
There is no doubt now that Selig wants to move the Expos to Washington or
Northern Virginia.
No surprise there, no matter what Bob DuPuy says.
There are rumblings that Comcast could create a second regional sports network, which would allow Orioles games to continue being shown in the Washington-Virginia metropolii. Angelos then could be offered a bigger chunk of the revenues from that network than the Expos for some lengthy phase-in period.
Two things: "metropolii" is not the plural of metropolis. If you want to be pretentious and keep it all Greeky, it would be metropoleis.
The other thing: Holy crap would this be cool! Regardless of how one feels about the Orioles, the more baseball on TV the better. I even wish I got the YES Network (though you can bet I'd watch it muted). I've always thought that one of the downsides to DC getting a team, minor as it may be, was that we wouldn't get the Orioles games anymore. This would be completely awesome.

The intense conversations between MLB and the Northern Virginia group these days appear to be a sign MLB is now in overdrive, trying to determine if this is really a feasible alternative to putting a team in Washington.

But there is trouble on that front, too. Earlier this year, MLB was assured by the Northern Virginia delegation that land and financing for their ballpark was a done deal. Uh, maybe not.

He then goes on to talk about the lack of actual ownership of actual land by the Loudoun Cabal and the staunch opposition to funding provided by the Speaker of the Virginia House. Loyal readers of this blog already know all about this (as do loyal readers of the sites I steal all my news from).

Finally, MLB always dismisses talk that this decision is affected in any way by the racketeering lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Loria's one-time limited partners in Montreal, which claims, essentially, that Loria devalued the worth of the franchise (and, therefore, their own investment).

But a ruling by an arbitrator related to that suit has been postponed again, until September or October. And one source involved in the relocation discussions admits that the timing of that ruling has become "part of the equation."

This is interesting, as it's the first time I can think of that a mainstream sportswriter has brought up the RICO suit. The whole mess was detailed in that multi-part Selig hit piece in the Post, but basically the former minority owners of the Expos are suing MLB over the Red Sox/Marlins/Expos team-swap that went down 1000 days ago. Anyway, Stark concludes that the owners' meetings next week will be the backdrop for another delay. He's certainly not going out on a limb there.

The Post had an article on Friday about the Las Vegas bid. I'll spoil the ending for you: they got nothing. Also, the mayor of Vegas is a former mob lawyer. Anyway, this is interesting.
Baseball officials contend the competition remains wide open. They said the decision has been complicated not only by the Orioles issue but also the inability of all the bidders, including D.C. and Northern Virginia, to put forward a completed financing plan to build a new ballpark that baseball has made a pre-condition for relocation.
Take THAT, Cabal! What is actually kind of heartening about this whole mess is that no city (or suburban gravel-pit, for that matter) has agreed to just build a stadium and hope that MLB is kind enough to give them a team to put in it.

Hat enthusiast Tracy Ringolsby wrote a column about Bud Selig's commisionership and contract extension.
First, they need to make sure Selig is in charge, and not in a lame-duck position, before they tackle the issue of whether the Expos go to the Washington area or Las Vegas.
Hmm . . . could it be that Selig is waiting until he has job security to tell Angelos where he can stick his territorial rights? Let's hope so.
Word is the relocation committee will endorse a Washington home for the Expos, but there's a catch. Selig doesn't like strong opposition.
Don't get too excited. He seems to be including NoVa in "Washington home."

Approval will require a 22-7 vote among the 29 owners, and, at least initially, there figure to be at least seven negative votes against the Washington area, even if Northern Virginia is the site chosen.

There's Baltimore, which doesn't want a team in its territory, and six other teams who would fear a precedent that opens the way for another team to be added to their territories - the Mets, Yankees, White Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Giants.

I wonder about this. Ringolsby certainly has some sources, but is this list based on inside information, or just whatever's going on under his hat? For one thing, Seattle is the team with the most to worry about. I expect the American League to expand to 16 teams at some point in the near future, and it would surprise me if Portland weren't one of the finalists, a prospect that can't sit well with the subnormals who run the Mariners. Also, does anyone think Chicago is anywhere close to getting another team? There has been talk (though little actual action) of northern Jersey, but wouldn't the Mets or Yankees have a veto over either an NL or AL team in Jersey? L.A. already has two teams, as does the Bay Area. I don't understand the logic of this list, but maybe Tracy knows something I don't.

Field of Schemes discusses another option: the Expos move to RFK but continue to be owned by MLB. There's a pretty significant flaw in this reasoning:
It would be a bizarre announcement for several reasons, not least because with Virginia's stadium-funding bill due to expire at the end of 2004, a conditional move to RFK would effectively be the same as handing the team to D.C. without a stadium-funding vote there.
A lot can happen in a year, though, and even more in two. Maybe Portland or Vegas will get their acts together. Maybe DC or Virginia will cave and give Bud whatever he wants. What I think makes this pretty likely is that it would let MLB delay the decision for years, and they seem to get a real kick out of that.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I'll Trade You Bud Selig for David Stern, Straight Up

I'm beginning to find this situation very tedious, so this will be quick and probably not up the standards of thigh-slappin' hilarity I try to maintain.

Murray Chass has a story in the New York Times that says that MLB wants to move the Expos to DC or NoVa, but Angelos is in the way. You already knew that, though.

The Speaker of the Virginia House is claiming the Loudoun's funding might not be all that easy after all. It's quite possible that none of this matters, because . . .

There seems to be a growing sentiment that the Expos aren't going anywhere next year. Off-Wing Opinion has this:
If the Expos were coming to Washington in time for 2005, we'd already know.
Trust me on this. Ahead of a large business announcement like this one, all sorts of preparations have to be made in the background -- preparations that inevitably create just the sort of background noise that would tip us off as to what's going to happen next.
Field of Schemes chimes in as well.
Call me crazy, but I'm making plans for Opening Day 2005 in Montreal.

It's the tenth anniversary of the 1994 strike, the one that cancelled a World Series and killed the Expos. That combined with how MLB is handling relocation and the news that Bud Selig's getting an extension really makes me wish all the other sports didn't suck so much.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Bob and Jerry's Excellent Adventure

I meant to have a review of Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, but I don't have anything insightful to add. I strongly recommend it. It's well-written, well-researched, and even-handed. Like Moneyball, it's an interesting narrative rather than a mere catalog of events. So go read it.

There was one bit that seemed particularly interesting in light of current events. Calvin Griffith, the nephew and successor of long-time Senators' owner Clark Griffith, recalled:
Clark Griffith used to say, "If I could draw 350,000 people, I can make money." He made money 25 consecutive years there. The money that he made, though, was $1,000, $2,000, or $3,000, sometimes $10,000 or $15,000.
In other words, enough to stay afloat, but not enough to improve the team. Sounds like Gabe Paul's "one million fans is plenty!" plan. The Griffiths would have approved of ignoring fans from DC and PG County, as well.

Much has been made since last week of a visit members of the relocation committee made to the area. The Times summary is here.
The trip, led by MLB president Bob DuPuy and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, centered on both the commonwealth's financing plan and land acquisition for a proposed stadium in Loudoun County. MLB officials did not meet with any leaders from the District, which has its own bid for the Expos.
But don't despair:
"There's nothing to read into that," said a industry source familiar with the session. "The Northern Virginia bid has more moving parts, the inclusion of the developers. There's more things that need to be clarified."
So this trip may be a good or bad thing for the DC bid. It seems to depend on what you already think; if you're pro-DC, you see this trip reflecting the "Oops! We don't actually own the land!" difficulties that the Cabal is having. If you're wrong, you see it as an expression of interest in NoVa.

This next part is problematic, and I don't know if I should chalk it up to dumb owners or bad journalism. Neither baseball owners nor sportswriters are on my good list, so I'm kind of torn. Anyway, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has another article on Bob and Jerry's road trip.
Commissioner Bud Selig repeatedly has said he does not want to harm the Baltimore Orioles, who play about 40 miles from the capital, and the team executives said those statements have put renewed focus for some owners on the bid by Northern Virginia, which has proposed building a stadium in Loudoun County near Dulles International Airport, about 60 miles from the Orioles' Camden Yards ballpark.
Oh crap! It's my worst nightmare! I'd better keep reading, though. There may be more information!

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has opposed moving the Expos to either area, saying in June that "another major-league baseball franchise in close proximity would result in two mediocre franchises from a competitive standpoint." [Orioles-themed empases mine]

So, here's the question: are owners so dumb that they would move the team to NoVa to help Angelos even though Angelos thinks it won't help Angelos? Or is Angelos actually lobbying for Dulles without letting us know about it for some reason? Or is this just a crappy article? I think the last of these is most likely.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Watcha Gonna Do When Fishermania Runs Wild on You?

Warning: this post is lengthy and involves a lot of professional wrestling talk. It's totally relevant, but I thought you should know about that before you proceed.

Before I get underway, I meant to link to this yesterday. David Vescey discusses some finds in his collection of 70s and 80s baseball cards, and it's the best thing Page 2 has ever done.
You apparently needed three things to be a major leaguer in 1979: big hair, porn-star-quality facial hair and huge wire-rim glasses. Terry Humphrey hit the trifecta in Topps No. 503.
It gets better from there. Now, powered by the new lyrics to Born in the USA, on to the rasslin.

We here at Distinguished Senators are big fans of Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, a crusading newshound in the tradition of Clark Kent and Peter Parker (I can't think of any real journalists). Fisher conducted a chat on the Post website today, and there was some baseball stuff in among all the talk of libraries and DJ salaries. Direct your eyesight here:
Angelos' comment about there being no real baseball fans in Washington was at best idiotic, at worst a veiled racist comment worthy more of Clark Griffith.
Indeed. It's a shame Clark Griffith was such a racist (and, more to the point, segregationist) because he was a hell of an interesting character. More on that over the weekend, probably.
Angelos can't have it both ways--either there are tons of baseball fans here who have helped to support his team and whose loss he stays up at night worrying about, or there are no fans here and Washington can't support a team of its own. But not both.
Hold on now! I don't like Angelos - you know that. But Fisher is here doing what he accuses Angelos of doing. Angelos was quite clear here: there are no baseball fans in DC, but there are in Maryland suburbs, and these are the fans he fears losing. Fisher makes it sound as if Angelos said no one in the entire area was a baseball fan, and that wouldn't be racist at all. So, either he's a racist for saying the fans are all in the majority white suburbs, or he's got no fans to lose. But not both.
The truth is that this area would support a team easily, and that Angelos would lose some fans from Washington and Virginia and maybe parts of Maryland, but he'd also gain from the competition with an NL team for the hearts and minds of residents of the region.
I like this idea. I like it a lot, but you'll have to allow me a rather self-indulgent digression to explain it.

In this matter, as in so many others, professional wrestling can be very instructive. Allow me to set up the scene: in the early 90s, the World Wrestling Federation was easily the country's top wrestling promotion. The WWF's flagship television program was Monday Night Raw on the USA Network, which came on Monday nights, oddly enough (and was usually followed by Silk Stalkings or La Femme Nikita - what a great channel!) . Raw ran unopposed from 1993 to 1995, and with no competition the show was allowed to become rather dull. Not wishing to give away on TV what they could charge for on pay per view, management booked Raw to feature mainly matches between established stars and "jobbers," the guys who always lose (where have you gone, Barry Horowitz? A nation turns its something eyes something something). Everyone knew what was going to happen, and it didn't make for exciting television, but it was the only show in town. Ratings were consistently between 2 and 3.5 of whatever it is you measure ratings in (ampules?).

Meanwhile, philanthropist jackass Ted Turner had been pouring money into the WWF's competition, Atlanta-based World Championship Wrestling. WCW had maintained its TV presence on the weekends until September 1995. Monday Nitro debuted that month and took the wrestling world by storm (that's the kind of thing you say about wrestling on TV). The inaugural episode saw Lex Luger, who had appeared in WWF rings only weeks before, show up and do... well, something. It was ten years ago, so lay off. Into early 1996, the ratings of both shows stayed in Raw's old 2-3.5 ampule range. According to my genius calculations, this means that rather than WCW taking the WWF's audience, the Monday night wrestling audience effectively doubled. Keep that in mind.

Soon, Nitro's ratings began to climb and climb. Powered by the nWo invasion storyline (you can still see the t-shirts. I mean actually on people), ratings moved steadily in the the 3s and eventually the 4s as Nitro ran off a long streak of victories against Raw. Nitro was the thing to watch, particularly if you were big fan of Scott Hall's fake-ass Scarface accent and Ric Flair's leathery man-boobs. Faced with extinction, the WWF innovated. Gone were the silly (relatively speaking) gimmicks; no more wrestling plumbers or Sgt. Slaughter pretending to be Iraqi. WWF owner Vince McMahon allowed his performers to craft their own personae and was rewarded by, among others, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and the Rock. As these gentlemen became household names and Raw began to push the envelope of extreme (e.g., saying "ass" and flipping people off, both techinques used to great effect by this blog), Raw clawed its way back until, by 1998, both shows were in the 4s and 5s every week.

So, what's the lesson? Conventional wisdom in 1995 held that either Raw or Nitro would fade away as a result of the direct competition. In fact, just the opposite happened. With more and better product out there, wrestling grabbed hold of the nation's pop culture conciousness in a way it never had before, even during the glory days of Hulkamania. Total viewership skyrocketed. It is entirely reasonable to think that more baseball in the Baltimore/DC area will result in more baseball fans than even a successful O's team could attract alone. Imagine the excitement the six times a year the Orioles and Senators would play each other. Imagine the effect competition could have on the way Peter Angelos runs his team. It's no coincidence that the A's get the small half of a shared market and are the most innovative team in baseball. Angelos' objections aside, a baseball team in Washington would not just be good for DC residents; it would not just be good for baseball as a whole; it would be good for the Orioles.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Separating the Wheat from the Chass

Once again, there's not any news to report, but here I am anyway. I'll have a couple of book reviews coming up in the near future. I just finished Beyond the Shadow of the Senators, and I'm leafing through The Washington Senators, 1901-1971 by Tom "Frenchy" Deveaux. I have plenty of time to read what with the Metro being broken EVERY DAMN DAY. Not that I'm bitter.

Turns out that Seattle Times story that had everyone so bummed is actually from Murray Chass of the New York Times (I'd link to it, but I can't find it, and we already know what it says). In case you missed it, Bud Selig reportedly stated twice that he woudn't do anything with the Expos that would make Peter Angelos unhappy. Yesterday, however, a Norfolk paper had a denial from Bob DuPuy, the Admiral Stockdale to Bud Selig's Ross Perot.

DuPuy, the second most powerful man in baseball , disputed a New York Times
report indicating that the Expos would not relocate to Washington or Northern
Virginia. . .

“The story is inaccurate, and you will note unsourced,” DuPuy said in an e-mail Monday to The Virginian-Pilot. “No decision has been made. Discussions are continuing with all candidates.”

Denials from DuPuy are like delays on the Metro; it seems like there's a new one EVERY DAMN DAY. A waiter asks him if he wants fries or baked potato and he's all, "no decision has been made. No potato preparation has been ruled out." Bagboys ask him if he wants paper or plastic, and he's all like . . . well, you see what I'm getting at. Take it for what it's worth - no one who writes for the Times would ever make anything up, right?

The Orioles are coming to town!
The Baltimore Orioles will hold their 6th annual "D.C. Summer FanFest" on
Wednesday, August 18, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Farragut Square.
Apparently the Orioles are trying to appeal to people without jobs. Which makes sense, actually, if they want fans to be able to get to Baltimore in time for weeknight games. I went to one of these things a couple years, and Jeff Conine signed my free Sportstalk 980 t-shirt. My roommate addressed him as "champ." Anyway, go down there and protest if you have nothing to do. I work for a living, at least until this blogging gig starts paying the mad scrilla, and I ain't in Sullivan territory just yet.

There's another DC baseball message board out there. It's bigger and even nastier than the Fanhome one. These people can't say anything without resorting to sarcasm. But it's informative, at any rate.

Apropos of nothing, here's why Wins and Losses are the worst stats in baseball: Walter Johnson is possibly the greatest pitcher in Major League history. He spent his entire career with the Washington Senators/Nationals, and they were terrible for almost all of it. Johnson lost 26 games by a score of 1-0. Those losses had nothing to do with Johnson and everything to do with his crappy teammates, yet pitchers are still judged by "their" wins and losses.

Hey, the Orioles can beat the Mariners! Who needs a team in DC?

Monday, August 02, 2004

Backed-Up Stuff and a Korean Digression

I've been in a pretty crappy mood about our prospects, so I've been derelict in keeping up with things. I'd promise it won't happen again, but it will.

As you may have heard, the trade deadline came over the weekend, and did it ever rock. The Expos, Twins, Red Sox, and Cubs threw a bunch of players into a pot, each team grabbing what it wanted. The Expos rid themselves of sore-backed malcontent Orlando Cabrera and picked up Alex Gonzalez, a pretty crappy shortstop himself, and a couple of prospects (3B Brendan Harris and RHP Francis "the Other" Beltran). Chris Kahrl's Transaction Analysis columns in Baseball Prospectus are subscription only, but I don't think they'll mind my saying that she gave it a thumbs-up from the 'Spos' standpoint. Indeed, "next year's Expos team could be a passel of kids with promise." Now if Peter Angelos would only return to the Stygian depths whence he came, we could have a good ol' time.

Speaking of Trading Day, you won't find a bigger divide between the statsy types on the Web and the mainstream sports media than in analysis of the Dodgers/Marlins blockbuster (with the possible exception of the debate over the value of Derek Jeter). Each side thinks someone got fleeced - the old school fellows cite Paul LoDuca's veteran leadership and Guillermo Mota's setupping goodness, while the more sabermetrically inclined point out that Juan Encarnation sucks and that the Marlins got really badly screwed.

In this article from Jayson Stark, the most important guy in the trade is completely dismissed. See if you can spot it:
All he traded was his fifth starter (Brad Penny), a platoon guy (Hee Seop Choi), a bench player (Abraham Nunez) and two minor leaguers (Bill Murphy and Travis
Chick)," said one NL front-office man.
I guess slugging 25-year-olds with great plate discipline who make chump change aren't worth what they used to be. Choi is currently putting up a .270/.388/.495 line, which, in technical terms, is rad, particularly for a guy years away from free agency. The Cubs' trading Choi for Derrek Lee was one of the great unheralded dumbass moves of the off-season, as the Cubs paid almost six million bucks for an improvement at 1B that was, if anything, marginal. Now it's happened to Choi twice, but I think he's found a home with Paul DePodesta in LA.

Dick Heller had another article about remembering those Grays on Saturday (clarification: the article came out on Saturday, but does not advocate remembering the Grays on Saturday specifically). If you've been following the advice of the country's leading scientists and reading everything I've been telling you to, there's nothing you probably haven't heard before, but what the heck.

I advise you to listen to Sportstalk 980 here in the DC area from 10-11 am on Saturdays. Baseball Roundup with Marc Sterne (neither of whose names is spelled the way one would expect) naturally spends a good amount of its hour on relocation. If you hear a guy with a thick Australian accent complaining about the Loudoun Cabal, that's probably me using my radio voice.

A free article on BP led me to Field of Schemes, where Neil "the Mouse" daMause discusses the thieving SOBs who run the National Pastime. There's a lot of Expos content over there. I'm going to put up a link when I get around to it.

I'm off to Camden tomorrow night for the Orioles vs. the Mariners. It's not my fault; some dumbass Mariners fan I know wanted to go months ago, that game got rained out, and then he skipped town. I will be wearing my Senators hat (or, as the kids say, "Rocking my Nats chapeau"), don't you worry.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

August

Here we are in August with no team and no timetable for getting one. Not that anyone in Washington cares, now that Joe Gibbs has come to save us all.

You've probably already heard that they won't have a decision on the Expos at the owners' meetings (August 18-19). I'm not sure that we've had any confirmation on this, but if Hal Bodley says it, it must be true.

Over at the message board Generalissimo Chris Rehling pointed out this extremely depressing article from the Seattle Times.
Contrary to widespread expectations, Washington-area fans and officials are
presumably in for a major disappointment by not getting the Montreal Expos for
next season or any season.
Commissioner Bud Selig told Peter Angelos, the Baltimore Orioles owner, who opposes the Expos' relocation in what he considers Orioles territory, that he would not do anything with the Expos that made Angelos unhappy.
Selig made that statement directly to Angelos in Houston on the day of the All-Star Game, and he repeated it later that day in a meeting with baseball's bankers.
Some baseball people speculated that Selig would put the team in Washington or northern Virginia anyway and make Angelos happy by giving him a large sum of money from the Expos sale. But Angelos shot down that idea.
"The answer is no," he said when asked if money would do the trick. "You don't destroy a franchise in return for some kind of cash payment."
Man, I hope that's not true. Here's the thing: Angelos has no right to stop a National League team in DC. If an AL team were trying to move here, he'd have a veto, but this is one of the few areas in which there is still a distinction between the leagues. It would be a real shame if Bud Selig deprived baseball of a market the quality of DC merely because he's friends with Angelos.

I've got some other stuff, but I'll save it. The Cards are on.