Move contingent on new D.C. ballpark

NEW YORK -- Baseball owners took another step toward moving the Montreal Expos to Washington next year, giving conditional approval Friday but hinging their decision on the September agreement that did not cap the cost of a new ballpark.

Owners approved the move during a conference call by a 29-1 vote, with the Baltimore Orioles dissenting, a baseball official said on condition of anonymity.

Approval was "subject to all conditions set forth in the Baseball Stadium Agreement" signed on Sept. 29 by the Expos and Washington mayor Anthony A. Williams, major-league baseball said in a statement. That agreement called for the District of Columbia
government to enact by Dec. 31 funding for a new ballpark for the team, which would be renamed the Nationals.

The resolution owners approved, according to text obtained by
The Associated Press, specified the conditions included "all
necessary legislative action being taken to enable the
construction, funding and operation of the baseball stadium complex
as detailed in the baseball stadium agreement" and "arrangements
being made that are satisfactory to the commissioner for the use of
RFK Stadium for the 2005 season."

"They know that we've still got to some work to be done," said Williams' spokesman, Chris Bender. "They're going to wait and make sure we get these things hammered out, and we're going to do that over the next two weeks."

The move would be the first of a major-league baseball team since the expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season. The resolution stated the Nationals would
have "an operating territory and a television territory to be
defined pursuant to the major league constitution and the major
league rules."

The D.C. Council voted this week to approve funding but placed a $630 million cap on the project -- $195 million above the estimate contained in the September agreement. For the funding to become law, the Council must approve the measure again, and it must be
signed by Williams, who favors the project.

"This is another important step," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said. "We are looking forward to finishing the last steps, including the sale of the ballclub, and the rebirth of the club as the Washington Nationals."

Selig has refused to say how baseball would react if the cap remains in the final law.

"It's very complicated legislation. It got more complicated by the amendments that went through," Bender said. "But I think at this point it's important to them that we deliver on the quality of stadium that we said we would in the BSA. I think we can do that. There are ways to do it, even with the cap."

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has opposed the move, saying a team in Washington would cut the revenue of his franchise. Baseball's chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, has been negotiating a deal with the Orioles that would protect Angelos' franchise, but no agreement has been reached, and Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said this week the matter could wind up in court.

Orioles general counsel H. Russell Smouse said Selig and another baseball officials acknowledged a "dramatic adverse impact of that relocation on our team, the state of Maryland and the city of Baltimore."

"Major League Baseball said they would devise a plan to address our issues and those of the Maryland Stadium Authority," Smouse said. "The Orioles and the stadium authority have relied on those representations."

Washington's team would start play April 4 at Philadelphia and have its home opener April 14 against Arizona at RFK Stadium. The stadium would be used by the team for at least three seasons before the opening of the new ballpark, which would be built south of the Capitol, along the Anacostia River.

The Expos were bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season, and the commissioner's office is in the early stages of the sale process.