NL team in D.C. is best for fans, if not Angelos

January 23, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

The awarding of a National League expansion team to Washington or Northern Virginia would be to the immediate benefit of Baltimore, in particular, and baseball, in general. The thought has been advanced before but never got beyond the talking stage. Now the possibility is heating up again and hopefully it will happen.

It would be an absolute winner, a positive move for all, especially for the baseball public of the Baltimore and Washington areas. That way, fans of the Orioles would not be clubbed over the head with arbitrary ticket-price increases, high parking fees and concession costs.

The public would have an option -- Baltimore or Washington, the American League or National League. When one team was scheduled to be on the road, the other could be at home, giving the public nonstop baseball for the entire season.

More importantly, the fans, instead of being victimized, would be in position to control their own destiny. The Orioles no longer would be the "only game in town" -- make that two towns, Baltimore and Washington. Such an arrangement would give the spectators the chance to be independent and shop for the best deal.

The Orioles would not be able to take unfair advantage of the fans by hitting them with a take-it-or-leave-it situation. If a club is eventually based in Washington, and/or Northern Virginia, there would be another option and the Orioles wouldn't be able to dictate the market value of what it costs to see a baseball game.

Hopefully, Peter Angelos, who doesn't want a competitor nearby, will change his mind and welcome Washington with open arms. After all, Baltimore is in longtime debt to Washington. It gained a franchise in the American League when Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, allowed the St. Louis Browns to transfer to Baltimore in 1954 without extracting any financial consideration.

By baseball law, Griffith could have gotten a cash settlement because his territory was being invaded by a rival club in the same league. But Griffith, who liked nothing better than to make money and maintain a low payroll, waived such rights. He didn't even ask for indemnification, not a penny. He was enthusiastic about Baltimore's joining the American League.

All he derived out of the Browns coming to Baltimore was a gentlemanly offer by Jerry Hoffberger, then owner of the National Brewing Co., and a team sponsor of both the Senators and Orioles, to boost television and radio rights by a modest margin. That was it. The Orioles came in unimpeded and soon surpassed the Senators in success on the field and at the gate.

Baltimore, if you want to be fair about it, owes Washington or Northern Virginia a favor. Turnabout is fair play. But, more importantly, it would be a positive development for the public if it could happen in either 1997 or the year 2000. Why? For the simple reason the fans would be the absolute beneficiaries.

The Washington Post reports five sites are being studied for a baseball park in Virginia and it's excited about the emergence of a potential owner in Williams Collins III, who has made zillions in pTC telecommunications.

What makes Collins especially attractive, besides his financial worth, is he was once a minor-league catcher in the Milwaukee Brewers' farm system and knows the game. Baseball is desperate for owners with a background in baseball and Collins would bring that with him.

He played three years in the minors in the early 1970s after being signed out of George Washington University. He has such a lust for the game that he already owns minor-league clubs at the Single-A and Triple-A levels. Baseball shouldn't let him get away.

As for Baltimore's stonewalling baseball in D.C. or its suburbs, let's not forget that Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, is playing the same game, only in reverse. He covets the entire National Football League audience in both cities, which is ludicrous. But isn't Angelos doing the same?

This is exactly what former Orioles owners Ed Williams and Eli Jacobs were able to do and Angelos has a similar outlook, considering what he told Peter Schmuck of The Sun. This means those blasting Cooke for blocking Baltimore have to, if they apply the same rationale, feel identically toward Angelos for his stand against Washington/Northern Virginia.

So Cooke and Angelos, as incredulous as it seems, are on the same page in trying to deny the rival cities the major-league representation each deserves. By the way, there's conversation on the streets of Laurel that Cooke may soon be giving up his plan to build on property at the racetrack and instead turn his attentions to elsewhere in Maryland.

Hopefully, the state can salvage the tax benefits and avail itself of the modest number of jobs that come with having an NFL team, such as the Redskins. They ought to be good for something. Then, ultimately, Baltimore needs to gain an NFL club of its own via expansion.

In Washington/Northern Virginia, the opposite situation exists. So with equity for all, both areas need to be individually serviced with their own franchises. Baltimore deserves to be in the National Football League; Washington/Northern Virginia in the National Baseball League.

The selfish motives of Cooke in football and Angelos in baseball need to be put aside for the greater benefit of both cities.

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