NEW YORK - Exactly 33 years after the Washington Senators played their final game, the nation's capital might learn on Thursday that major league baseball plans to return next season.
Several baseball officials said Monday that the most likely day for an announcement that Washington, D.C., has been selected for the future home of the Montreal Expos is Thursday, although there was a slight chance the timetable could be moved up.
After a meeting of the sport's executive council last Thursday, a high-ranking baseball official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said major league baseball would attempt to finalize negotiations with Washington within a week. It would be the first franchise relocation in the major leagues since the expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.
The deal to move the Expos to Washington would be subject to government approval of funding for both a $13 million refurbishment of RFK Stadium and a new ballpark costing slightly over $400 million, which would be built along the Anacostia River in the southeast section of the city.
A move also must be approved by three-quarters of major league owners and survive legal challenges by the Expos' former limited partners and possibly by Baltimore owner Peter Angelos, who objects to having a team just 40 miles from his. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, went to Baltimore on Friday to negotiate a compensation arrangement with Angelos.
After an announcement, the process of selling the Expos will start. A group that includes former Rangers partner Fred Malek has been seeking a Washington franchise for five years. In addition, several baseball officials have said in the past week that Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, might be trying to assemble a group.
Kasten is close to baseball commissioner Bud Selig, which likely would be an advantage during the bidding process.
"I am studying all the situations in all of the sports right now," Kasten said Monday. "I haven't committed to any group, any city or any sport."
The original Washington Senators played 4,610 home games before becoming the Minnesota Twins after the 1960 season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The expansion Senators played 883 home games before moving to Texas.
In the Senators' last game, on Sept. 30, 1971, they led the New York Yankees 7-5 with two outs in the ninth inning when fans seeking souvenirs went on the RFK Stadium field, which could not be cleared. The Yankees wound up winning the game in a forfeit.
The Rangers retain ownership of the name "Washington Senators," baseball spokesman Carmine Tiso said after consulting with Ethan Orlinsky, a lawyer for Major League Baseball Properties, the sport's licensing division.
Montreal's last home game is scheduled for Wednesday night against Florida. Monday's series opener drew a crowd of 3,923 to Olympic Stadium.
"Now that it looks like it's going to happen, that this is going to be the end, it's a little tough for people to get up and talk about it in the positive way that they should," Expos manager Frank Robinson said. "And I think that's kind of a pity, really, because it deserves that people say more about how they feel about the situation, about the possibility of losing baseball in the Montreal area. ...
"I think there were a lot more good times possibly than bad times. This is where an expansion ballclub grew into one of the best organizations in baseball, at one time, and it's sad the way it has gone over the last few years and the way it is going out, if this is the end."
Chad Bentz, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, made his major league debut this season and spent four months with the Expos as a rookie left-handed relief pitcher. Bentz eventually was sent down to the minors to work on a slider, then had his season end early due to a problem with his left shoulder and a right foot problem.