Even though it's 1 team for 3, Baltimore gets worst of any Washington merger

John Steadman

January 04, 1993|By John Steadman

If we're to accept the revised stipulation of where we live and work, then officially it's Washington-Baltimore, which is what a team called the Orioles has been propagating for more than a decade. On this premise -- fraudulent and grossly misleading -- Baltimore inherits three other major-league franchises via this new share-the-city game of geographical Ping-Pong.

This means, demographically, Baltimore is now the home of the Redskins, Capitals and Bullets. And Washington picks up the Orioles, making it a multisport major-league city trade. Dealing on a three-for-one basis may create some artificial appeal for Baltimore.

But the Redskins, Capitals and Bullets, collectively, can't compare in historical or financial importance to the Orioles, who have been in Baltimore for more than 100 years.

The Orioles' executives were fighting a losing battle in trying, by subliminal efforts, to shun the Baltimore name. It has aspired to become a regional team, a policy invoked by the late Edward Bennett Williams during his former term of ownership, beginning in 1979.

This latest designation of Washington-Baltimore as a singular area is both folly and an insult. It became a federal order, dictated by the Office of Management and Budget. Unfortunately, few public officials, not the mayor of Baltimore or the governor of Maryland, came forth to oppose such action.

The Orioles, of course, get what they have been advocating -- a stamp of approval for a two-city address. In the future, the Orioles will be able to upscale the charge for tickets, parking, concessions and radio/television rights. They can try to justify such a plan because it offers a broader base to market their wares and arguably makes the team a more valuable commodity.

Will other identities eventually be merged? Could the Baltimore Sun now become the Washington/Baltimore Sun and does this mean the Washington Post is the Washington/Baltimore Post and the Washington Times the Baltimore/Washington Times? Such a hypothesis invites interesting journalistic possibilities, something akin to establishing zoned editions for a larger circulation area.

Washington is important enough to have a separate identity. So is Baltimore. Washington, especially, shouldn't have been so XTC desperate as to annex Baltimore, but if the governor and major don't object, why should the rest of us?

From another angle, what kind of an ambiguous message does this send the National Football League? The league can say, but we doubt if it will, that Baltimore already has a team to call its own in the Redskins, so why award an expansion franchise since owner Jack Kent Cooke is trying to service both cities with his Washington-Baltimore Redskins and, furthermore, is even going to build a 75,000-seat stadium on the Maryland side of Washington, yet inside the district, to demonstrate his benevolence for Baltimore?

This game of tacking on names took on a life of its own when Washington failed to get a baseball team in the last expansion of the National League. Washington deserved to be included, which is why this reporter felt compelled to take a stand that it be so rewarded rather than placing a club in Miami.

A team in Washington would have forced the Orioles to be competitive from a business standpoint. It wouldn't be able to assume anything remotely suggesting a "take it or leave it" attitude with the public. This would have been a break for the fans because if they objected to the way they were being treated in Baltimore or Washington they had another option and vice versa.

There are other absurd aspects to this incongruous mix of names. If it had to happen, Baltimore should have preceded Washington in any such linkage on the mere basis of the alphabet. "B", as in Baltimore, comes before the "W" in Washington -- a point that's strengthened by the fact there's Baltimore-Washington International airport. That also was an ill-advised transformation, especially because the original name, Friendship Airport, had a simplicity and warmth that was appealing to travelers the world over.

When you see BWI on a sign it smacks of a concoction of letters, which could easily translate to British West Indies. Friendship had an identity all its own, yet it was eradicated.

Back to sports and the merging of cities. Will the Capitals, Bullets and Redskins include Baltimore on their stationery, publications, advertising and team uniforms?

And will the Orioles do the same, even though they have continued to lessen any direct identification with Baltimore, despite the fact the state built a park for them to play in that cost $260 million (not the $104 million sometimes erroneously reported in other places)? Or will the club keep the status quo in its efforts to create a larger audience by shunning any connection with either city and merely trade off the glorious name of Orioles?

Baltimore residents, by way of more than a century-old birthright, prefer the Orioles to be their exclusive property. Just because Washington doesn't have a team is no reason to be so desperate as to change the identification of an entire region so it can play off the popularity of major-league baseball in Baltimore.

It strains credibility and destroys the importance of civic individuality.

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