To repay favor, Orioles should lead call for D.C. franchise

John Steadman

December 21, 1990|By John Steadman

BASEBALL should return to the nation's capital or else the sport deserves to be stripped of its antitrust exemption. Washington has been given a brutal beating by the previous franchise owners.

How can the nation's capital not have the national pastime? Ottawa, capital of Canada, has just been given an expansion club in the National Hockey League, which is as it should be. By the same rationale, Washington rates a major-league baseball team.

Eli Jacobs, owner of the Baltimore Orioles, hopefully will show compassion for Washington and take the lead in trying to bring a team to the capital. Baltimore is in Washington's debt. Why? Because without Washington relinquishing its territorial rights in 1954 it would have been impossible for the St. Louis Browns to transfer to Baltimore.

Washington could have put a gun to Baltimore's head and demanded a ton of money before it would allow the Orioles in the American League. But Clark Griffith, the Senators' owner, waived indemnification, or else the Orioles would have remained in the International League.

How could Baltimore not want to do something for Washington now that the Orioles are in position to reciprocate?

By the time Washington would get a National League expansion franchise (if it happens it'll be 1993), the Orioles will be in their new downtown park, where the seating capacity is going to be more than 7,000 less than at Memorial Stadium. Imagine the demand for tickets and how difficult it is going to be to get accommodations.

A National League team in Washington would enhance, not diminish, baseball interest in the Middle Atlantic area. Residents of the two cities and their suburban areas could see games in both major leagues. There's no doubt Baltimore is the "key" to Washington's baseball future.

If the Orioles want to block the move out of selfishness they can. The Orioles also could publicly assume a neutral position but, at the same time, maneuver behind the scenes to bash the Washington bid.

Washington is one of six locations that survived the first cut, as the NL trimmed the groups from 17 to six. Those still under consideration don't begin to rate with Washington and what it has to offer in population, television market and the availability of a stadium. Buffalo, Denver, Miami, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg represent the competition, and none is the equal of Washington.

The Washington organization is headed by a potentially excellent leader in John E. Akridge III, who is deeply respected by the NL Expansion Committee, namely Douglas Danforth of the Pittsburgh Pirates, John McMullen of the Houston Astros, Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets and league president Bill White. What Akridge has to do is put on a presentation that will overwhelm the NL when it arrives for an inspection tour. He also needs to get Jacobs on his side.

Visits from important members of Congress, plus a former Yale first baseman, George Bush, who lives in the White House, would be valuable. Having two teams in opposite leagues can be beneficial to baseball, the same as with the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants.

Maurice "Mo" Siegel, writing in the Washington Times, noted, "There can be no objection to readmitting Washington except for Jacobs' fear that its presence would severely damage the prosperity that his Orioles are experiencing." The Orioles have estimated about one-quarter of their patrons come from the Washington metropolitan area -- a figure we quietly question.

Washington has changed in the 19 years it has been without baseball. There is a population base of almost 4 million surrounding the district. Every effort should be made by Akridge and the Washington interests to convince Jacobs and the Orioles to look with favor upon them.

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