By Jim Caple
Page 2

The Team Formerly Known as the Expos doesn't have an owner. Or a stadium. The franchise's relocation to Washington, D.C., hasn't been approved by the owners. But it does nearly have a financing plan for a ballpark, plus a new name, new logo, new hat, new ticket prices and -- whew! -- the relief of that nasty racketeering lawsuit by the former owners being thrown out of court.

The Expos/Nationals also have an interim general manager busy acquiring expensive baggage with the sort of enthusiasm that can only be mustered by a GM who doesn't report to an owner.

Jim Bowden signed Cristian Guzman to a four-year, $16.8 million contact -- even though the shortstop failed to fulfill his early promise with Minnesota, is slowing down on the bases and too-seldom reaches those bases in the first place (he has a .303 career on-base percentage). Bowden also gave a two-year contract to Vinny Castilla ,who will be 38 next season, has never prospered away from the Rockies and who had a difficult-to-believe .281 on-base percentage outside Denver in 2004. Plus, Bowden traded for Jose Guillen, who ended last season under suspension by the Angels for insubordination, has been released three times and will be playing for his seventh organization in six years.

Sheesh, why doesn't Bodwn sign Mike Epstein to a three-year deal while he's at it?

Those moves are the equivalent of trying to unload a used car from the lot while your head salesman adds a $900 eight-track tape deck, re-upholsters the interior with $2,000 worth of Corinthian leather and buys a $400 pair of vintage fuzzy dice to dangle from the rear-view mirror.

But what the heck, why not? It isn't as if the money is coming out of Bowden's wallet. He probably won't even be on the scene when the eventual owner starts screaming about paying Guzman $4 million a year to hit .230 with four home runs and one triple.

Besides, the entire Expos' relocation process has been so questionably maneuvered that the financial planner must have been Cecil Fielder.

Let's take a closer look at this incredible scheme, which is as convoluted as the heist in "Ocean's Eleven." Just replace George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Bernie Mac with Bud Selig, Jeffrey Loria and the District of Columbia council.

First, during Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, you had Selig get up in the middle of "God Bless America" to announce that the Expos were to be eliminated through contraction. (I'm exaggerating, of course -- Selig actually had the decency to delay the announcement until he was presenting the World Series trophy in the Diamondbacks clubhouse.)

Anyway, that reprehensible plan was blocked by the 2002 basic agreement with the players association. Instead, major-league owners paid Loria $120 million for the Expos and loaned him another $39 million to buy the Marlins so that Florida could beat the Yankees in the 2003 World Series. They also arranged for John Henry to buy the Red Sox so that Boston could beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. They also took over management of the Expos, which did not work out nearly as well.

In three years running the Expos, MLB scheduled the team to play more than 40 games in Puerto Rico, drew crowds of less than 4,000, sold tickets in bulk at half-price to scalpers in Montreal, lost tens of millions of dollars and salted the earth before backing up the U-Hauls to Stadium Le'Olympique. Baseball reached a tentative deal this fall to move the team to Washington, provided the city builds a stadium that will cost at least $440 million and an owner comes up with, say, $300 million to buy the team.

Still with us? Still sure which cup the ball is under? Good. Let's move on.

The District of Columbia council gave preliminary approval for a stadium this week, with this caveat: If the cost soars beyond $630 million, the ballpark must be built on cheaper land, though still within range of Air Force One.

Does that mean the move to Washington is a done deal? Not exactly. To get permission to move a team into the Orioles' market, baseball had to guarantee Orioles owner Peter Angelos specific annual revenues along with a guaranteed franchise value and (I think) a promise that Fredo would be replaced as head of Las Vegas operations. With just days remaining before baseball needs to approve the move, the league is still haggling with Angelos over the money. A lawsuit (naturally) is possible.

So where does this leave the Expos/Nationals? The relocation is so far along and there is so much money at stake that it's difficult to imagine the team opening next season anywhere other than in Washington. On the other hand, nothing has gone according to plan or on schedule to this point, so you can't rule anything out.

Well, there is one thing you can rule out: Given as poorly as all this is progressing, Washington won't be raising its first World Series championship banner since 1924 any time soon.

LIES, DAMN LIES, AND STATISTICS
Which is more impressive? Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak or Ken Jennings' Jeopardy streak? Jennings' streak lasted longer (74 games and six months compared to Joe's 56 games and two months), he faced more pitches (more than 2,700 questions compared to 223 at-bats for Joe) and he earned more money ($2.5 million compared to the approximately $13,600 Joe earned during his streak). On the other hand, DiMaggio wound up in the World Series and eventually married Marilyn Monroe, so Jennings has his work cut out ... Fixer-upper: While Washington, D.C., figures out how to pay for a $440 million-plus stadium, the Blue Jays have agreed to buy SkyDome for roughly $21.2 million, which is $354 million less than it cost to build. That's also $500,000 less than A-Rod earned last season (even counting the deferrals from his big-league high $25 million average salary) ... Edgar Martinez might have retired, but he's still making a difference. Washington's gubernatorial race, the closest in state history and possibly the closest in the history of U.S.elections at the governor level, is headed for a possible second recount, as Republican Dino Rossi and Democrat Christine Gregoire are separated by just 42 votes out of the 2.8 million cast. The state may follow a machine recount by recounting the ballots by hand, which could prove interesting. Nine voters in King County (where the Mariners are located) wrote in Edgar's name; and if just 34 others did as well in the state's other 38 counties, it would be enough to have spelled the difference. Ichiro, by the way, received three write-in votes in King County.

FROM LEFT FIELD
There are a number of questions a community should ask before agreeing to build a new stadium for any team. Is this an appropriate use of public money? Shouldn't the team be responsible for its own facility? Are the few jobs created in the service industry near the stadium worth the loss of the few jobs in other areas?

And here's another question. Why the hell does the thing have to cost so much?

Granted, prices of many things have risen in the past 13 years or so. But look at the following list of the stadiums opened since the retro-boom started in 1992, and compare the construction costs. Then ask yourself: If the stadiums built in recent years aren't any better than Camden Yards or Jacobs Field, then who the heck is making all that extra money off their construction?

Year   City                 Cost
1992   Baltimore            $110 million
1994   Cleveland            $175 million
1994   Texas                $191 million
1995   Colorado             $215 million
1997   Atlanta              $235 million
1998   Arizona              $349 million
1999   Seattle              $517 million
2000   Detroit              $300 million
2000   San Francisco        $255 million
2000   Houston              $250 million
2001   Pittsburgh           $262 million
2001   Milwaukee            $400 million
2003   Cincinnati           $325 million
2004   San Diego            $480 million
2004   Philadelphia         $346 million
2008   Washington, D.C.     $630 million*

* projected cost/opening

WIN BLAKE STEIN'S MONEY
This week's category: Bud Selig Must Have Been On the County Council.

Q: What was the first public-subsidized stadium?

A: Milwaukee's County Stadium, built in 1952 to lure a major-league team. Which it did when the Braves moved from Boston in 1953 in baseball's first team relocation in half a century.

INFIELD CHATTER

"I told him, cheat on me all you want. If you get caught, I'm going to (sleep with) everybody on your entire team -- coaches, trainers, players. I would do everybody on his whole team."

-- Anna Benson, wife of Mets pitcher Kris Benson, explaining to Howard Stern how she would 'embarrass' her husband if he was unfaithful ... as if that's possible at this point

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com


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