Baseball has finally made the announcement that the/les/los Montreal/San Juan/Where Nextpos will move to Washington next year. The team has been in limbo for two years while Major League Baseball went around to various cities saying they could have the club if and only if they built a stadium for it with taxpayers' money.
Washington "won" the sweepstakes.
There are plenty of stumbling blocks still in place but the plan is for the team to play in old RFK Stadium, which will have $13 million worth of paint and Scotch tape slapped around it by way of renovation, and then move to a new, publicly financed $400 million stadium proposed for a depressed area along the Anacostia River south of the Capitol.
The biggest stumbling block may be one that nobody seems to want to talk about in all the celebrating in Washington and mooning in Montreal. Former owner Jeffrey Loria's former limited partners filed a racketeering lawsuit against him and MLB two years ago, accusing Loria and baseball of diluting the partners' ownership shares and deliberately destroying baseball in Montreal so the team could be moved to the United States. Baseball took the team off Loria's hands and paid him to become the owner of the Florida Marlins, a deal that was, well, fishy from the get-go.
That suit requires baseball to give 90 days' notice of its intentions to move the team, which baseball gave two weeks ago. The partners, through their attorneys, say they'll seek an injunction against the move in November, after an arbitrator rules in October whether the lawsuit has enough merit to continue. Any delay at all would likely prevent the Where Nextpos from playing in Washington in 2005.
It's sad to see the quirky franchise that was the Montreal Expos expire. From their oddball name to their bilingual way of doing everything to those old tri-color hats, the Expos were one of a kind. But we must face reality, bid adieu to Coco Laboy, Boots Day and Le Grand Orange, and face the future.
This team needs a new name.
Washington's baseball teams have almost always been called the Senators, and that's what Washingtonians seem to want for their new club.
Senators? Let's see: In 71 years, the Senators collected three pennants, one World Series championship and two departures for other cities, the world capitals Bloomington, Minn., and Arlington, Texas. How's "no" sound to you?
Other Washington-centric names have been floated. Mayor Anthony Williams favors the Washington Grays, after the Pittsburgh Negro League team the Homestead Grays, who sometimes played home games in Washington. A nice thought, but Gray is hardly a whiz-bang concept for marketing purposes. Other names with some baseball history are the Olympics, the Statesmen and the Blue Legs, none of which is likely to catch on. A popular suggestion is the Washington Monuments. Yuck. We already have the Buffalo Bills, and one team name that's a pun is enough for any country's major sports.
I'd be in favor of the Washington Filibusters, though. How cool would that be? The uniform front could say "Busters," a piece of merchandise I'd be happy to purchase for reasons that should be obvious to regular readers.
But think about it: Losing going to the bottom of the ninth, the Busters could rally the crowd with snippets of Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington": "Well, I guess the gentlemen are in a pretty tall hurry to get me out of here ... No, sir, I will not yield! ... Just get up off the ground, that's all I ask!"
Probably should skip that part where he says, "Take a look at this country ... There's no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies," because we're talking about baseball here, don't forget, and specifically the Montreal Expos. Did I mention the racketeering suit?
What the Where Nextpos need in their new home is a name that really reflects the situation. I've been thinking about it and I have two suggestions.
The first is the Washington Ricos. This works on a lot of levels. The lawsuit by the former owners was filed under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Ricos would also act as a tribute to the Where Nextpos' sometime home over the last two years, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Ricos also ties in nicely with the Expos' bilingual history because it's a Spanish word, meaning rich, which is what you'll have to be to get a ticket to that $400 million ballpark the district is going to build for the team.
It's also just a good idea generally to be rico if you're living in a place that'll spend $400 million in tax money not on services or education or infrastructure but to build an office building for a company that only employs a couple hundred people. That's not a big company. According to the Census Bureau, in 2001 there were more than 1,900 businesses in the city of Washington that employed more than 500 people. And yet very few publicly financed corporate headquarters are built for them.
And don't forget that the vast majority of a baseball team's payroll goes to players, who all live somewhere else, so most of that money leaves the city. And that every independent study ever made about baseball stadiums says that all the claims about them being economic engines that can revitalize the surrounding area are demonstrably false.
Of course proponents of the stadium deal say the money will come from taxes on tickets and concessions, rent from the team -- which would total $165 million over 30 years, but much less than that in 2004 dollars -- and a gross-receipts tax on the largest D.C. businesses. It's all new money, the theory goes, not money that would have been spent on schools or roads.
And if you believe that -- if you believe the city won't end up on the hook whenever attendance and concession sales don't hit their highly optimistic targets over the next 30 years, and you believe the city's largest businesses aren't at this moment searching for every loophole they can find to get out of the new taxes, and you believe that if they fail they won't just pass the tax on to city residents by raising prices -- I have a baseball team in Montreal I'll sell you cheap. You can call it the Washington Ricos.
My other suggestion is the Washington Big Trains, or just the Trains, in honor of Walter "Big Train" Johnson, the fireballer of the teens and '20s who was by far the greatest baseball player in our capital's history. The merchandising and marketing opportunities that would stem from this name, so resonant with glorious Americana, should be obvious.
The name would also honor the way the stadium deal is being railroaded through the D.C. Council. Three of the council's members are lame ducks, supporters of the stadium deal who were beaten in the recent primary elections by candidates who oppose it, including former Mayor Marion Barry. This was widely seen as a voter backlash among the city's predominantly black underclass against Williams and his ideas about city revitalization, which they feel leave them behind.
Those three primary winners are all Democrats and are thus a lock to win in the general election. Barry, Kwame Brown and Vincent C. Gray take office in January. The mayor and his allies want to make damn sure the stadium deal is complete by then -- because, you see, there has to be enough time to renovate RFK Stadium by Opening Day.
The Washington Post reports that eight council members have expressed support for the stadium plan, though some have said they'll have to see it before they can commit to a yes vote, with three against and two undecided. The Washington Times has it as four council members supporting the plan, three opposing it and six undecided. In that atmosphere, three votes switching sides could be huge. So: Choo choo!
Go, Big Trains, go.
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