It seemed so unlikely a few months ago, but Washingto might get one of the two National League expansion teams, though probably for all the wrong reasons.
The expansion committee should pick the nation's capital because:
* The area has great revenue potential, especially after Congress passes a season-ticket tax subsidy.
* It will keep Dan Quayle away from Memorial Stadium.
* RFK is a better baseball park than Joe Robbie Stadium, particularly during monsoon season.
* The Orioles would really hate it.
But if the expansion committee does choose Washington, it will be because:
* Haggling between the two leagues over expansion money will cause the American League to vote down one of the two Florida candidates and preserve it for future AL expansion.
* Major League Baseball is tired of having its antitrust exemption waved in its face by vote-hungry members of Senate Task Force on Baseball Expansion (your tax dollars at work).
* Massive debt incurred signing washed-up free agents will seem reasonable next to the federal deficit.
* The ownership group has promised not to call the team the Senators.
The expansion committee isn't saying much, but speculation is rampant that the National League will come to some kind of accommodation with the American League over the $190 million in expansion fees, perhaps trading off one of the Florida markets (probably Tampa/St. Petersburg) for a much larger share of the cash. That would improve Washington's chances tremendously.
* The Tigers have gone to great lengths to assemble the most strikeout-prone lineup known to baseball, but the quixotic quartet (note clever windmill allusion) of Pete Incaviglia, Rob Deer, Mickey Tettleton and Cecil Fielder can do a little more than strike out. Booth Newspapers columnist Vern Plagenhoff points out that the fearsome foursome did whiff 635 times last year, but also hit 117 home runs, which is more than 11 major-league teams hit in 1990.
In Detroit's opening series against the New York Yankees, the four were a combined 8-for-33 with nine strikeouts, but drove in 10 runs as the Tigers won two of three games.
* The Express is overdue: The last time Nolan Ryan defeated the Baltimore Orioles was on April 20, 1976. He pitched a three-hitter for the California Angels that day, giving up two hits to shortstop Mark Belanger and one to third baseman Brooks Robinson. Ryan, who is scheduled to face the Orioles today, is the only player to appear in that game who still is active, but the Orioles will have one person in uniform who faced him -- coach Elrod Hendricks.
* The Angels were concerned about left-hander Chuck Finley after ran up a 9.00 ERA in spring training, but he answered the bell on Opening Day. Finley took a no-hitter into the fifth inning on the way to a 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners that kept him right on pace for the Cy Young Award that was predicted for him in this space only a week ago. He only needs to win about 24 more games to lock it up.
* Deja who? Minnesota Twins infielder Greg Gagne hit a home run and a double in the club's opener against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday, April 9, at the Oakland Coliseum. Oddly enough, he also hit a home run and a double in last year's opener, which -- oddly enough -- was on April 9 at the Oakland Coliseum.
That's pretty curious, since Gagne isn't exactly your classic power hitter and the Coliseum isn't exactly a cozy ballpark, but the thing that's really strange is how often the Twins open the regular season in Oakland. Since 1972, they have opened there seven times and have opened in Minnesota only six times.
The one-hitter thrown on Opening Day by Dennis Martinez, Barry Jones and Scott Ruskin of the Montreal Expos was the first one-hitter on Opening Day since Ken McBride and Julio Navarro of the Los Angeles Angels combined to one-hit the Washington Senators, 4-0, on April 13, 1964. The catcher for the Angels that day was Buck Rodgers, now the manager of the Expos.
BONUS STAT: The one-hitter was the third for the Expos in their past 18 regular-season games.
Kansas City Royals starter Bret Saberhagen gave up three home runs to George Bell on Opening Day in 1988 and gave up a three-run home run to Sam Horn on Opening Day last year. So, he had to wonder after Albert Belle took him deep on Opening Day this year.
"A bell, a horn and a bell," Saberhagen said. "Hopefully, the next time I start on Opening Day, there won't be any musical instruments in the lineup."
There was no reason to fret (note subtle musical reference) this ++ time. Saberhagen still hung on to win and began another odd-numbered year on a winning note.
There were aging catchers popping up all over Florida and Arizona this spring, and a few of them -- most notably Rick Dempsey, Gary Carter and Ernie Whitt -- landed part-time jobs. But 43-year-old Bob Boone, the all-time leader in games played behind the plate, is sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring.
Even he knows that it probably won't.