Undercurrents

With a load of heroic fanfare, megamillionaire baseball team owner John Henry promised us he would not sell the Marlins and proclaimed he would keep Major League Baseball in Florida.

For some reason the otherwise brainy commodities trader actually thought good intentions and some amount of money would get a new stadium built, and he would save the day for all sports-loving Floridians.

But after suffering a number of well-publicized defeats in getting a stadium built, he's apparently changed his tune. Undercurrents has learned he's had discussions about moving the franchise, and the team may be headed north.

Ever since he made that original promise, things have not gone his way. The City of Miami has balked at allowing him to put up his retractable-roof stadium by the bay. Governor Bush quashed his attempt to tax the cruise industry. Just last week Henry decided that a smaller, less-expensive, 25,000-seat stadium wasn't financially feasible.

He's setting us up for the high-hard one: Henry's people have been talking to groups in Washington, D.C., about moving the team up there. Yes, fans actually want baseball near our nation's capital and are working hard to get it.

The two groups seeking baseball in the area are the Washington Baseball Club and Virginia Baseball Inc.One source told us that the move could be made in a short period of time, and a temporary home for the team would be RFK stadium while a new ballpark is being built in northern Virginia.

Expansion has added 12 teams to Major League Baseball over the past 40 years. The Washington area came in third to Phoenix and Tampa Bay in the last go-around. D.C. promoters have been hustling since then to position themselves to be the next city allowed to add a team.

In the past Major League Baseball has wanted teams to stay put. Ironically it was the expansion Washington Senators who last relocated, when that franchise moved to Texas in 1971. Now comes Commissioner Bud Selig, who recently acknowledged that some teams are in financial trouble and can't compete with the more successful teams in large markets. Baseball will not force a franchise facing financial ruin to stay in a market until it folds.

Henry has been crying all along about the costly Pro Player Stadium contract and lack of a retractable roof during our rainy season. He can't (or won't) throw millions at bankable stars, and attendance appears to be at an all-time low. The Marlins were infuriated recently when more people in the stands were cheering for the Boston Red Sox than for the home team.

No new stadium plus no die-hard fans equals adios.

A source says that, more than a month ago, Henry's people made the first move in feeling out the situation in D.C. to see if the team would be welcome there. The answer is yes, according to the people in Virginia. Protocol dictates that before "active contacts" can be made, the Marlins have to ask permission of MLB. A member of the Marlins' communications department failed to return phone calls to New Times.

The one roadblock: Henry does have a competitor in the "franchise-in-the-worst-shape" race, and it's the Montreal Expos. Media reports say the team is near financial collapse and so may win the race to Washington, D.C.

Got a tip? Call 954-233-1581, fax 954-233-1571, or e-mail undercurrents@newtimesbpb.com.

 
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