|Wednesday, November 20
Updated: November 22, 6:48 PM ET
Owners approve 22-game slate in Puerto Rico
IRVING, Texas -- Baseball pushed ahead with two major international initiatives Wednesday, shifting 22 of Montreal's home games next year to Puerto Rico and moving a season-opening series between Seattle and Oakland to Japan.
Seeking to increase revenue from the Expos, who are among the worst draws in the major leagues, baseball announced plans to play three homestands covering seven series at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.
Commissioner Bud Selig also appointed a committee, filled with many of his closest advisers, to find a permanent solution for the Expos, who were purchased by the other 29 teams before last season and are operated by the commissioner's office.
Washington, D.C., Portland, Ore., and Charlotte, N.C., are among the possible bidders. No team has moved since the expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.
"They need to be in a different market,'' Rangers owner Tom Hicks said of the Expos. "At the right time, they need to be relocated.''
Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, is on the committee, which also includes Selig's daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb; Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf; members of baseball's central office; and outside consultants.
"It would be nice to have it done in midsummer, if possible, but we're in November,'' DuPuy said.
DuPuy said his previous statement -- saying it was inevitable that Washington eventually would get a team -- should not be tied to the Expos.
"Do I think it will happen sometime? Yes,'' he said, adding that it could be "five years, 10 years, 30 years'' until major league baseball returns to the nation's capital.
For now, though, "Les Expos'' will also be "Los Expos,'' playing more than one-quarter of their home schedule on the road and the remaining 59 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal. While no specifics were announced, the intended schedule was revealed by several baseball officials spoke who on the condition of anonymity.
Subject to negotiations with the players' association, the Expos would play a 10-game homestand in San Juan in April, with games against the New York Mets (April 11-14), Atlanta (April 15-17) and Cincinnati (April 18-20).
The second homestand would include World Series champion Anaheim (June 3-5) and Texas (June 6-8), and the last would have Florida (Sept. 5-7) and the Chicago Cubs (Sept. 9-11).
San Juan was the host for baseball's 2001 season opener between Texas and Toronto.
The players' association had argued for two homestands in San Juan instead of three, seeking to minimize dislocation. The union, which must approve the games, wants baseball to pay for families to join players on the shifted homestands and also wants additional meal money.
"This is going to require some discussion with us. This is not a done deal,'' Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official, said shortly before the announcement.
Expos president Tony Tavares said that with the guaranteed income from the games in San Juan, where the ballpark capacity is about 19,800, his team will not have to conduct a "fire sale'' of players such as Vladimir Guerrero and Bartolo Colon.
Still, he did not reveal the Expos' planned payroll. General manager Omar Minaya has estimated that it would have to rise from $38 million to about $50 million to keep the current roster intact.
Montreal drew just 812,000 fans at home last year, competing with Florida for the major league low, and didn't have an English-language television contract. Tavares said April games in Montreal drew little attention, unable to compete for attention with the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Montreal Canadiens.
"Somebody might break a record in baseball, and you might get on page seven or eight, and I'm talking about an important record,'' Tavares said.
In negotiations with promoters in San Juan, baseball has asked for specific dollar guarantees for the games on the Caribbean island.
"Puerto Rico will help a lot because you are collecting U.S. dollars and certain dollars, if you will, because there are guarantees involved,'' Tavares said.
On other subjects, Selig formed a marketing task force to examine how baseball attracts fans. The group, similar to the economic panel that established paramaters for management's labor proposals, will spend the next year examining broad issues, such as a baseball World Cup and whether to move to the start of the World Series from a Saturday to a Tuesday.
Selig will present ideas to owners in January on the All-Star game, which ended in a 7-7, 11-inning tie last July when the teams ran out of pitchers.
Sandy Alderson, Selig's executive vice president for baseball operations, said Selig's staff had not yet come up with recommendations on the minimum age for bat boys, which became an issue when Dusty Baker's 3-year-old son, Darren, nearly became involved in a collision near home plate during the World Series.
The games in Tokyo on March 25 and 26, also subject to negotiations with the union, will be nearly a week ahead of March 31, when most teams open their seasons. The New York Mets and Chicago Cubs played the first regular-season games in Japan, opening the 2000 season with a two-game series at the Tokyo Dome, and this series will mark baseball's fourth international opener in five seasons.
"The clubs are happy,'' Selig said. "They wanted to go.''
Seattle's principal owner, Hiroshi Yamauchi, is Japanese, and the Mariners' roster includes three Japanese players: 2001 AL MVP and AL Rookie of the Year Ichiro Suzuki, 2000 AL Rookie of the Year Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa.