Baseball: After 34 years, baseball returns to Washington

Rupert Cornwell
Friday 01 October 2004 00:00

Forget the mayhem in Iraq, the presidential elections, even last night's candidates' debate. A banner headline yesterday in The Washington Post proclaimed the only news in town that mattered: "Baseball's Coming Back to Washington."

The joyous tidings were finally proclaimed by Mayor Anthony Williams after Major League Baseball announced that the moribund Montreal Expos would be moving next season to DC - 34 years after Washington's last team, the Senators, decamped to Texas.

That slight never ceased to rankle. Subsequently, the city bid time and again for a new franchise as baseball expanded, only to see such upstarts as Phoenix, Denver, and Tampa Bay preferred to the national capital. But Washington's pride is now restored.

"I'm elated, relieved, and satisfied," a beaming Mr Williams said, wearing the red cap with a capital W of the much missed Senators. "We put a lot of time into this and it finally paid off."

The arrival of the Expos will be the third chapter of Washington's spasmodic and inglorious baseball history. The original Senators were founded in 1901, winning Washington's only World Series title in 1924. That team decamped to Minneapolis in 1961, to be replaced by an expansion franchise with the same name, which hung around for just 10 years before turning into the Texas Rangers - a team later managed by a certain George W Bush. "First in war, first in peace and last in the American League," ran the old joke.

More such jibes are likely now, given the dismal record of the Expos. The only difference is that, this time ,the team will be playing in the National, not the American, League.

Even now, possible pitfalls abound. The whole deal could founder on local opposition. Why spend a fortune on a non-essential baseball stadium, critics ask, when the city's public schools and hospitals are falling apart? Lawsuits by former Expos shareholders could also upset the process.

Washington is paying through the nose for the restoration of its honour. The stadium will cost $440m, (£250m)and ultimately the city's businesses and residents will pick up the bill. The beneficiary is America's last legal cartel, Major League Baseball. MLB paid $120m to buy the Expos two years ago. It expects to auction off the team to a new ownership group for at least $300m.

In the meantime a new game has begun - what should the new team be called? The favourite is the Senators, although Mayor Williams objects, pointing out that the disenfranchised city has no Senators of its own on Capitol Hill.

Other suggestions include the Washington Nationals, the Washington Filibusters, the Washington Freeloaders and the Washington Deficits. Or what about the Washington Commanders, in homage to the President? Or perhaps, for John Kerry, the Washington Flip-Floppers?

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