The saga continues...
Commissioner Selig elaborated on the reasons for his doubts about the Washington area's desirability as a new home city for the Expos franchise yesterday. According to the Washington Post, he "does not want to repeat baseball's past mistakes" by allowing a franchise relocation that adversely affects an existing franchise. As indicated elsewhere on this Web site, however, franchise relocations to metropolitan areas with existing franchises have only occurred four times: in 1902, 1903, 1954, and 1968. In the first two cases (St. Louis and New York), multiple teams coexisted for several decades. In the third case, the Baltimore Orioles may have diverted a small portion of the Washington-area fan base from the Senators, but that was hardly the main reason for the subsequent decisions of Clark Griffith (1961) and Bob Short (1972) to abandon D.C. The only such precedent that Selig can cite with some justification is when the Athletics moved to Oakland in 1968, taking some fans from the Giants across the Bay. One case is not enough to make an argument! The very real long-term problem of lagging attendance and television viewership in the baseball world has multiple causes, but it is certainly not a function of franchises crowding each others' turf. Interestingly, only one city has ever benefited from an MLB franchise relocation more than once: Milwaukee, which just happens to be Bud's home town! Hmmm... Obviously, he knows what he's talking about.
In spite of his qualms, Mr. Selig expressed confidence that the Expos will have a permanent home by the start of next season, saying "It's time to get this done." MLB officials supposedly expect a final decision on relocation by July. Of course, we've heard that song and dance before, over and over and over again, but this time Selig just may be serious. What's more, Northern Virginia is apparently on the verge of winning the franchise for next year, notwithstanding all the talk about Washington, or the barely plausible alternatives of Portland, Las Vegas, Norfolk, or Monterrey. As Jon Saraceno writes in USA Today,
When it comes to those cities, don't believe a word about their chances of landing the Montreal Expos. Baseball's smoke-and-mirrors strategy is designed for competitive bidding purposes.
Of course, we've heard that explanation before too: it's all just a ploy to leverage more public funding for a new stadium out of area taxpayers. What has changed the dynamics in recent weeks is the fact that the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority has worked out a plan to build a ballpark near Dulles Airport, most likely in Loudoun County. That is indeed a booming suburban area, and the fact that it is 20+ miles from downtown Washington would certainly make it more palatable to Peter Angelos. As Saraceno says, "Virginia has given MLB what it wants. Baseball has no better option." I'm not so sure, though: With gas prices soaring and no near-term prospect of mass transit to Dulles, attendance at such a far-out ballpark would be a very uncertain thing. I can remember going on bike rides in that area in the 1980s, back when it was full of bucolic pasturelands. The times are indeed a-changin'; are they changing that much?
So, this is a good opportunity to repeat my modest little proposal: Build a small-sized stadium (35,000 seats) in Northern Virginia while refurbishing RFK Stadium (with 45,000+ seats), and have the team alternate between home fields from one home stand to the next, for as many years as is mutually agreeable to the franchise owners and the respective local governments. That would attract the maximum number of fans from the Washington area and satsify all concerned parties -- if only the Commonwealth of Virginia and the District of Columbia could find a way to collaborate in their own mutual best interests!