Commissioner Bud Selig admits he doesn't have a clue where the Montreal Expos are heading. But he made one thing perfectly clear: Beyond 1999, the Expos are fair game.
They might yet stay in Montreal. But the chances are just as good -- if not better -- they'll end up somewhere else.
Midnight Saturday was the deadline for the Expos to come up with a plan for a new stadium. And Selig acknowledged they've made virtually no progress.
If the Expos -- who have been unable to gain almost any support from the government in Quebec -- are looking for a little cushion from the friendly Commish, they will be sorely disappointed.
"Today is the deadline and I guess we'll just let the day come and go," Selig said behind the batting cage before the Devil Rays' exhibition game with the Braves. "There's not going to be an extension. They've had five months already."
Relocating a franchise is not Selig's idea of a good time. But the fruitless situation in Montreal has left him virtually no choice.
"We are trying to solve the basic problems the Expos are having in Montreal," he said. "We always do when the possibility of relocation comes up. But one thing all sides agree on is that there's been no progress in any of those areas."
"I don't have the legal or moral accordion to consign a team to bankruptcy."
The question on everyone's mind is, if not Montreal, then where?
Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Charlotte are the places most often bandied about. But Selig isn't quite ready to go that route.
| Commissioner Bud Selig says the Expos won't get an extension from baseball. (AP)|
"I haven't even thought about it. I know there are a lot of people in various places who are eyeing the Montreal Expos. We're not ready to do that."
"In a reasonably short period of time, we'll begin to examine all of the other alternatives if there isn't any progress being made (in Montreal)."
Folks clinging to hope there will be progress in Montreal would be wise not to hold their breath.
"Everyone understands baseball economics," Selig said. "Unfortunately, this situation has been developing for a long time and it's not on a good course. I'm optimistic by nature, but I have a lot of concerns here."
It's hard not to see how much better the Expos could be if they were making money. Their scouting department and farm system is among the best in the game. They have two players -- Vladimir Guerrero and Rondell White -- who are on the verge of becoming supersars.
But none of that is likely to result in a championship as long as the team stays in Montreal.
"The Montreal club has had to do a lot of things over the years to stay afloat," Selig said. "They've developed magnificent talent over the years and have had to trade a lot of it away."
"We need the Montreal franchise to be a viable one."
At this point, there's no reason to think the franchise's future won't be viable. But it's hard to fathom it being viable in Montreal.
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