Orioles need to climb aboard D.C.'s expansion bandwagon

John Steadman

March 29, 1991|By John Steadman

What John Akridge III, the man leading Washington's effort for a baseball expansion franchise, hopes to do is arrange a meeting with officials of the Baltimore Orioles and solicit their support. He sees it as a necessity; not an adversarial confrontation.

Akridge desires to establish the Orioles as an ally in furthering the return of major-league baseball to the nation's capital. "I am hopeful we can get together with the Orioles," he said, "because it would be important to have them on our side."

It's Akridge's fervent wish that the Orioles, in a spirit of friendship, civic cooperation and for the good of baseball, provide assistance to Washington's cause. The position of the Orioles, so far, is they want to remain neutral but that might be subject to change. Why?

Because it's a tenuous predicament and potentially damaging to the Orioles if they stand muted on the sidelines. Their silence will be interpreted as negative. This means the Orioles may have to take a more assertive role because if Washington is rejected, even on its own merits, there's the chance damaging criticism would be directed at the Orioles.

At this juncture in the expansion proceedings, as six cities stand in line for consideration, the Orioles realize from a public relations standpoint -- right or wrong -- they would be blamed, at least partially, if Washington is passed over. So they are almost compelled to deal with a sensitive condition, one they didn't create yet inherited.

Orioles ticket sales, said to be 20 percent in the Washington area, would be jeopardized if the perception evolves that the Baltimore organization was less than helpful. For the Orioles, it could be a no-win situation. Baltimore may be forced to take too much of the blame if Washington isn't awarded one of the two new National League clubs.

From the outset of the expansion planning, going back three years, the Kiplinger News Notes consistently forecast that the two cities that ultimately will win the prize are Denver and St. Petersburg. This would be a mistake because if the criteria is to pick the place that has the most to offer then Washington is easily the standout. But then politics are involved.

The Orioles, whether they realize it or not, might have to back Washington to prevent the risk of a backlash of ridicule. Either they come out for baseball returning to Washington or the suspicion will persist that the Orioles, even if they are innocent, had a part in keeping it from transpiring.

Regardless of the facts, a neutral role will be interpreted as negative. So the only way the Orioles might be able to negate such thinking is if they climb aboard Washington's baseball bandwagon and start pounding the drums, up to a point.

There's no reason for the Orioles to be alarmed that a National League expansion club would damage an American League team in Baltimore. As for an appointment with Orioles' officials, Akridge believes it is in the best interest of all. Furthermore, he's confident it will come to pass.

"It probably would have been held before now," he said, "except the Orioles have been occupied with spring training and the executive meetings in Dallas. And we were busy getting ready for the visit of the expansion committee last Monday. I believe we will sit down and talk. I look forward to such an opportunity."

The National League in Washington will maximize baseball interest in Baltimore because fans would go to both cities to watch games, so long as the teams weren't conflicting on the same dates. Just as Baltimore went to Washington, with baseball cap in hand in 1954, asking for help and getting it from Clark Griffith, owner of the Senators, the tables are now reversed.

Baltimore and the Orioles ought to return the favor Washington performed in their behalf when the St. Louis Browns transferred here in 1954. Washington gave its approval. So Baltimore ought to reciprocate. If an expansion team goes to Washington, it also could have an influence on Baltimore returning to pro football because it will signify two distinctive markets.

So the effort, bottom line, is a story of two cities with similar goals. It's Washington in baseball; Baltimore in football. For the Orioles, depending on which way they elect to go, it's a trip along a precarious tightrope. They can't afford a mistake.

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