Washington Nationals Information
NaThe Washington Nationals (nicknamed The Nats) are a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise based in Washington, D.C. The original Washington Nationals (more commonly known as the Senators) moved to Minneapolis in 1961 becoming the Minnesota Twins. Prior to the 2005 season, the current Nationals team played in Montreal as the Montreal Expos. The team's relocation was the first in Major League Baseball since 1972, when the Washington Senators moved to Texas, becoming the Texas Rangers. The franchise has been owned by Major League Baseball since 2002, although on May 3, 2006, a new ownership group was selected. Theodore N. Lerner has agreed to pay Baseball's price of $450 million for the franchise, and the league has said that it will fast-track the Lerners' approval process and vote on the Nationals' purchaser in time for the league's next owners' meeting May 17-18 in New York. Lerner is expected to take possession in June.
The Nationals are a member of the National League's Eastern Division (both previous Nationals/Senators teams played in the American League), and they currently play at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, which was previously the ballpark for the second Senators team. The team is expected to move into a new ballpark, located in Southeast D.C. near the Anacostia River and with views of the Capitol building, in the spring of 2008.
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The Montréal Expos joined the National League in 1969, along with the San Diego Padres. After a decade of losing, the team became a winner in the early 1980s, winning their only division championship in the strike-shortened split season of 1981. That team lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 in the National League Championship Series. After several mediocre years in the late 1980s, the team rebounded in the early 1990s. In 1994 the Expos, led by a talented group of players including Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom and Pedro Martínez, had the best record in major league baseball when the strike forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season. After the disappointment of 1994, the Expos began to lose players, money and fans. Ownership squabbles, the decimated fan base, a difficulty in selling broadcasting rights, and numerous other issues led to the team being bought by MLB in 2002.
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After several years in a holding pattern, MLB began actively looking for a relocation site for the Expos. Some of the choices included Oklahoma City; Washington D.C.; San Juan; Monterrey, Mexico; Portland, Oregon; Northern Virginia; Norfolk, Virginia; and Charlotte, North Carolina. In the decision-making process, Commissioner Bud Selig added Las Vegas, Nevada to the list of potential Expos homes. Charlotte, Portland and Las Vegas have since become the front-runners for potential future homes of the Florida Marlins, should that team relocate in 2008 at the earliest (even though it's now more likely that it would relocate to San Antonio, Texas in that event.)
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The move was announced despite opposition from Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos. From 1972 to 2004, the Orioles were the sole MLB franchise in the Baltimore-Washington metropolis. Obtaining the Orioles' cooperation was essential: the Baltimore and Washington regions had always been considered part of the same market, one which the Orioles' had had exclusive control over since 1972 (the original Washington Senators had waived their exclusivity rights to the region to allow the Orioles, then the St. Louis Browns, to move to Baltimore in 1953). On March 31, 2005, a deal was struck between Peter Angelos and Major League Baseball in order to protect the Orioles against any financial harm the Nationals might present to the Orioles' market (Washington is approximately 35 miles south of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Orioles have played their home games since 1992). Under the terms of the deal, television and radio broadcast rights to Nationals games are handled by the Orioles franchise, who formed a new network (the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network) to produce and distribute the games for both franchises on both local affiliates and cable/satellite systems.
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The ballpark proposal is controversial; many city residents oppose government subsidies for a multi-billion-dollar private business and would prefer the land and money to focus on schools rather than a ballpark. Three Council members who supported Mayor Anthony Williams's plan were ousted in September 2004's Democratic party primary. An opinion poll conducted by the Washington Post found that approximately two thirds of District residents oppose the mayor's stadium plan.
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On September 29, 2004, MLB officially announced that the Expos would move to Washington DC in 2005. The move was approved by the owners of the other teams in a 29–1 vote on December 3 (Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos cast the sole dissenting vote). In addition, on November 15, 2004, a lawsuit by the former team owners against MLB and former majority owner Jeffrey Loria was struck down by arbitrators, ending legal moves to keep the Expos in Montréal.
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During the 2005 season, a private financing plan for construction of the stadium was negotiated between the city and a syndicate of bankers led by Deutsche Bank. The negotiations of the details ran into another problem in November 2005. The bankers requested a letter of credit or other financial guarantee of $24 million US, $6 million for each of four years, ensuring payment of lease revenues against various risks including poor attendance and terrorism. The city requested that Major League Baseball provide this guarantee, which has not happened as of December 2005.
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Major League Baseball had agreed at the time that the franchise was moved to Washington, DC, to sell the team to an owner or ownership syndicate. Several dates for sale of the team have been set and missed. As of April 2006, the team is still owned by Major League Baseball. Eight syndicates have made offers for the team, of which three are considered front-runners. Major League Baseball, in November 2005, stated that it would not select an owner until the stadium financing plan was finalized, but finalization of the plan has been stalled due to the letter of credit issue. This delay has been harshly criticized by city residents and leaders as reported in the Washington Post.
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Due to the history of Washington franchises (See Washington Senators), there are doubts about whether Washington will actually be a better market for a pro baseball team than Montréal long term. Major League Baseball does not express such doubts, and proponents of the move argue that the failure of previous franchises has more to do with poor business decisions and financial management on the part of their owners than with any lack of popular support in the region itself.
Some analysts have pointed out that Washington may be less suited than some other cities to support baseball because it is primarily an African-American city (59%), and that African-Americans generally support baseball less than whites. Past Washington Senators teams have blamed poor attendance partially on lack of attendance by African-Americans. Washington has larger and whiter suburbs than it did in the 60s, so some analysts believe this will be a less important factor than in the past.