By knocking down D.C., NL also dusts off Baltimore

John Steadman

June 11, 1991|By John Steadman

Right now Washington is in pain. It was low-bridged with a vicious knockdown pitch by the National League expansion committee. And it should be made to regret the absurd decision by the full use of congressional action.

Political leadership should threaten to take away baseball's long-standing exemption from antitrust laws. That's the only hard-ball language the baseball rock-heads comprehend, which is how Seattle and Milwaukee got back in the majors after being plundered.

From Baltimore's viewpoint, it is a setback for the ticket-buying public. A team in Washington would provide a chance to see National League play when the Orioles are on the road, and would allow spectators to benefit from more reasonable ticket and concession prices.

So Baltimore, while a few of its misinformed citizens might be rejoicing that Washington was passed over, will find out in years to come that a non-competitive situation is not in its best interest. It will permit the Orioles' future ownership to take advantage of a monopoly, which means it won't be bothered with competition since it "will be the only game in two towns."

Washington has never had major-league baseball, even though it was a member of the American League for 71 years. In name only, maybe, but not on the field and from an organizational standpoint. Certainly, the Griffith and Short ownership regimes were an embarrassment to a city that deserved much better.

The expansion committee lineup, all weak hitters, comprised Douglas Danforth, Fred Wilpon, Bill Giles and Bill White. It preferred to ignore the following facts in eliminating Washington:

* The city that had the largest metropolitan population, 3,729,000 to 3,064,700 for Miami and 1,684,500 for Denver.

* The city that offers the highest ranked television market, seventh, compared to Miami, which is 16th, and Denver, rated 19th.

* The city with the leading per capita income in the nation, averaging $23,175 to Denver with $18,155 and Miami with $16,874.

* The city that is the largest in the country without a major-league club.

* The city that is the nation's capital devoid of the national pastime.

Baseball in both Baltimore and Washington would have enhanced interest in both places. If Oakland and San Francisco, plus Chicago and New York, can co-exist with membership in rival leagues then it will work here, too. Oakland and San Francisco are nine miles apart, by way of the bridge, and Baltimore and Washington are separated by 38 miles.

The Washington banner-carriers,John "Chip" Akridge III, Bob Pinvus and others, sold 23,000 season tickets from a responsive baseball audience. In some places, the perception is going to be that Baltimore sabotaged the Washington effort.

It's a charge that can't be substantiated. In fact, the expansion process never moved that far along in Washington's direction, even though Orioles officials were obviously monitoring the situation with more than cursory interest.

Baltimore will be opening a new downtown baseball park, located 25 minutes closer to Washington than the present Memorial Stadium, and will have 7,000 fewer seats for sale. So the demand for season ticket plans will increase -- as will the cost to watch baseball in Baltimore.

A team in Washington would have given John Q. Fan, in both cities, another option but that's not going to be the case. At least not for the present. Baseball, by virtue of its congressional exemption, is considered a sport and not a business, which is a mockery to all measures of logic.

Washington is hurting and so is Baltimore in a sensitive, vicarious way for its nearest neighbor to the south. From a monetary aspect, the cost of watching baseball in Baltimore is headed up, without healthy competitive restraint, because there's no opposition to keep prices in line.

Washington being shut out is a bad deal for you . . . the baseball consumer.

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