The Chronicles of the Nationals: the Mayor, the City Council and Major League Baseball

By Carla Peay
Updated: January 26, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C – In author C.S. Lewis’ classic fable “The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, four young children discover a magical land filled with mystical creatures, powerful forces, and an epic battle. Here in Washington D.C., we have our own version of the fable surrounding our Washington Nationals. We have a mayor trying to get a stadium deal approved by a divided city council in order to avoid arbitration by major league baseball. For baseball fans in the nation’s capital, it must seem as though life is imitating art.

We start with Mayor Anthony Williams. The mayor, who has already announced he will not be seeking re-election, has worked tirelessly to return baseball to the nation’s capital after a 34 year absence. The mayor has long trumpeted the long-term benefits of the arrival of Washington Nationals, and a new stadium to be built along the Anacostia waterfront in Southeast D.C. The new stadium will revitalize the area, becoming what the mayor calls a “wealth creation benefit” for the entire city. Mayor Williams and his staff are currently working on a revised stadium plan designed to control the cost overruns, and hope to present it to the D.C. City Council by Friday January 27th. If that deadline is met, a vote on the lease will be scheduled for February 7th.

Next we have the D.C. City Council. Several members are planning a mayoral run. They are busy straddling the political fence by both supporting the new team and the stadium and the expected “wealth creation” that will profit the city in the long run, but at the same time, must appease district residents who are worried about the escalating cost to D.C. taxpayers. D.C. City Council Chair Linda Cropp has reportedly informed Mayor Williams by letter that the council will approve the lease agreement, provided a number of conditions are met and certain concessions are obtained from major league baseball. The chief concession concerning the council appears to be trying to control the cost overruns of a stadium originally budgeted to come in at $535 million. The most recent estimates place the figure at around $667 million.

Our third player in this drama is Major League Baseball. They are standing firm in their position that no new owner will be named until the lease agreement is worked out, and have filed for arbitration because the city has already missed the original deadline to have the lease agreement done. Without the stadium lease, Major League Baseball will not name a new owner for the Nationals, despite having more than eight different ownership groups ready and waiting to pony up approximately $450 million to by the team.

Mediating the dispute, a step which comes before arbitration, will be former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer, a long time friend of Mayor Williams. If the matter comes to arbitration, the process could take several months.

Meanwhile, there is a baseball team to consider. The Washington Nationals are trying to be competitive in baseball’s toughest division amidst a limited payroll, ownership uncertainty, political gamesmanship, and the promise of a new stadium sometime in 2008 on land that has not yet been fully secured by the city.

In the role of the Wardrobe, the conduit between two the worlds, I nominate Mayor Williams. As for the roles of the Lion and the Witch, stay tuned. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.