Boswell nails it.
By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page D01
Late Tuesday night, in the 11th hour of a marathon D.C. Council meeting, chairman Linda W. Cropp blew to smithereens the deal that MLB thought it had in place with Washington to build a ballpark on the Anacostia waterfront. With that single blow, which leaves baseball no alternatives, the return of major league baseball to the nation's capital is now dead.
The bits of charred ash and shattered fragments that you see falling from the sky are the remnants of the destruction that Cropp wrought. With one amendment to a stadium-funding bill, she demolished the most basic pillar on which the District's agreement with baseball was built. By a 10-3 vote, the council demanded that at least half of the cost of any new stadium be built with private financing, which does not exist, rather than public funding, as stipulated in D.C.'s deal with baseball.
A stadium in search of hypothetical funding, funding that may never be found, is not a stadium at all. It is just a convenient political lie. The entire purpose of baseball's long search for a new home for the Expos was so the sport could sell the team. Who is going to buy a team to play in a stadium that isn't funded and may never be? Nobody. Nobody on earth.
Now, thanks to Cropp, baseball's entire motive for moving the ex-Expos to Washington -- to sell the team -- has been erased. Any solid deal in any town is now better than what Washington is offering -- which is nothing.
The question of whether baseball will now jerk its franchise out of Washington is not a question at all. It is a foregone conclusion. Why would baseball come here? We have pulled a bait-and-switch on the sport. We have broken a deal negotiated by Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the city's highest elected official. And worst of all, Cropp and her council didn't have the guts to stand up and say: "This stadium is too good a deal for baseball and not good enough for the District. You tied poor Mayor Williams in a knot. We're not approving such a lousy ballpark deal. We reject it. Take your team somewhere else."
That's a defensible position. It may be right or wrong. But those are the kind of decisions a city's council should make.
Instead, Cropp and her crowd want to hide their true intentions so they will not have "They Killed Baseball" signs nailed to their political backs. But that's what they did. And that's who they are.
Cropp doesn't want to leave fingerprints. Instead, she wants to leave the impression that she was merely trying to save the District money. Instead, she has now cost it a team and all the benefits of development in Southeast that it might have ignited.
"I do not want to do the public financing of this deal at this level," said Cropp. "I am not sure how baseball will react. But without this piece [of the legislation] I will not vote for this agreement."
Oh, she knows how baseball will react. It'll go ballistic. Will the sport want to come to Washington badly enough to put up with what council member Jack Evans, the point man throughout negotiations, called "a complete violation of our deal"?
In our dreams. The Nationals are gone. That didn't take long, did it? Save those hats with the tilted 'W' on the front. They'll be collectors' items before the week is over. Only a miracle could save Washington's deal with baseball now. Cropp killed it. Whether she did it out of civic conscience, as she claims, or pique, or political aspiration or simply -- and this is a possibility -- a general ignorance of the waters in which she was swimming, is a question for the future.
Right now, the entire baseball-for-Washington scene is in chaos and confusion.
Apparently, hell hath no fury like Cropp when she feels that she has been spurned by baseball. Earlier in the day, she contacted baseball about adding a clause to the stadium bill that would have capped the District's possible damages at $19 million a year if the park was not finished on time. She didn't like the answer she got which was basically, "A deal is a deal."
"I received a letter from baseball that was not a good faith effort," said an annoyed Cropp.
"I don't like a farce being played," said council member Carol Schwartz. "What [baseball told Cropp] was just a regurgitation of what they have said before."
In other words, baseball wouldn't negotiate with Cropp and her council beyond a certain fairly minimal point.
But why should they? To baseball, what Cropp has done is the purest form of business deceit. Let the mayor put an acceptable stadium offer on the table, complete with fully negotiated concessions on both sides, then, at the council level say, "Now let's renegotiate everything."
Baseball feels no obligation whatsoever to make a good faith effort to negotiate with Cropp's council. It already negotiated for two years with cities all over America that wanted the Expos to come to their town. The universal assumption was that the representatives of those cities -- such as Mayor Williams -- had the authority to speak for their towns and already had the backing and understanding of their city councils.
Obviously, Williams didn't. Cropp, who has aspirations to be mayor, has stunned Williams time and again. Last week, when asked if he had Cropp's final and solid support, he shook his head and said, "With her, who knows?"
The first person on the line to Commissioner Bud Selig may be Peter Angelos. As soon as he stops laughing, Angelos can assure the commissioner that, if he drops Washington like a hot potato, the Baltimore Orioles' owner will no longer feel the need to sue MLB.
Did Cropp fully comprehend what she was doing? Or was she simply out of her league? Bet on the former. She was told.
"What our city guaranteed baseball was that the city would build a new stadium -- that we would get it built. That was the essential thing to Major League Baseball. They want to sell the team," said Evans. "Tomorrow morning baseball can't sell that team. No owner would have certainty about a new stadium. That was always the fundamental issue in our deal."
Those who believe in the power of baseball prayer had better get to work. Because baseball would have to be run by saints -- not 30 owners -- to respond to this national insult, a direct spit in the face, by saying: "Okay, let's talk. Let's save the deal. We've already negotiated the big stuff. But now we'll negotiate it again."
Anything is possible. Maybe cows will fly soon, too.
In the end, the District, through its council, has shown that it does not want baseball -- at least not baseball in the real world. Cropp and her council are only comfortable playing fantasy baseball.
"If you wanted to kill the deal, why didn't you do it this morning?" council member Harold Brazil said after 10 p.m. "This is like 30 years of work for naught."
It's easier to do dark deeds late at night.