Griffith, Senators got little for opening Baltimore to baseball

John Steadman

April 17, 1991|By John Steadman

How the Washington Senators invited the Baltimore Orioles to join them in the American League, without asking for a penny of indemnification, qualifies as one of the most gracious acts in the history of professional sports. Baltimore has reason to be eternally grateful and also should return the kindness now that it's in a position to do so.

But, upon investigation, there is evidence Washington did receive a special kind of consideration that was so insignificant it's ridiculous. It was such a giveaway, something so minimal, when compared to what Clark Griffith, owner of the Senators, could have charged, under baseball's territorial invasion laws, that it became virtually pro bono.

All Griffith and the Senators got out of the deal in 1954 was a promise from Jerry Hoffberger, an Oriole investor and president of the National Brewing Co., that they would be given a boost in radio-television rights. Hoffberger and National had the contract to broadcast Senators' games. The increase was so small the dollar figure was never revealed.

The fact Hoffberger and National agreed to add more money to the radio-TV deal is all a part of the record. It's written about in the first book ever published on the Baltimore Orioles and revealed by the well-known baseball historian Fred Leib.

Now, with Washington bidding to return to the major leagues, the Orioles could stand in that city's way and either go public to block the move or participate behind the scenes to scuttle the attempt. The Orioles, however, have declared neutrality. Reiterating, we feel a National League franchise in Washington, with the American League Orioles in Baltimore, would maximize baseball interest throughout the entire area.

The Washington ticket selling effort, not even a week old, has been remarkable. Deposits for 14,670 tickets were processed. "In just three days," says Tom Hipp, vice president of the Washington baseball effort, "we reached half of our deposit goal and collected over $1.1 million, which is 90 percent of the dollars other cities collected in 30 days."

To date, 7,953 represent full-season subscriptions and 6,717 are one-third plans. "The response has been incredible and especially gratifying," said Chip Akridge, president of the group known as Metropolitan Washington Baseball.

Two interesting statistical facts -- provided by the National Data Planning Corp., and Economic Research Associates -- have come to the fore:

* Baltimore and Washington represent the largest single-team baseball market in the country with a population of 6.5 million. Philadelphia presently leads with 5.1 million.

* In median household income, the Washington area tops the U.S. with $48,728. Baltimore, significantly, is fourth among American League cities with $38,139, behind Anaheim, Boston TTC and Toronto. But Baltimore ranks higher than any National League city, which is surprising.

Additionally, Washington is the nation's seventh largest television area, far ahead of the other five cities competing for one of the two National League expansion teams to be awarded. The field also includes Miami, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Buffalo and Denver.

Some baseball officials believe going to Florida would be "California all over again," like what has happened with the installation of big league clubs in San Diego, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco. But that's rock-headed thinking.

California had a true baseball heritage, which Florida doesn't have, because of its long association with the Pacific Coast League. Florida heat in the summer is overwhelming, which is why so many thousands head for the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.

As a point in passing, relative to Washington's drive to regain big-league stature: When the Senators -- the worst team in baseball, which also charged the highest seat prices -- left Washington for Texas in 1972, there were only two clubs in the American League voting against the move.

One of the dissenters was the Chicago White Sox. The other? The Baltimore Orioles. It's time now for the Orioles to repay Washington for the immensity of the favor it provided in 1954. That's the least a good neighbor can do.

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