D.C. baseball backer hacks away at Baltimore worry

July 11, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

PAUL DICKSON, author of Dickson's Baseball Dictionary and The Hidden Language of Baseball: How Signs and Sign Stealing Have Influenced the Course of the National Past Time, has lived for many years in the Maryland suburbs of Washington and believes it's time for the District of Columbia to have a baseball team again. We had an online chat about the subject, as Major League Baseball prepared for the All-Star break and the team owners prepared to relocate the Montreal Expos to another city, possibly Washington.

Dan Rodricks: Paul, the mayor of Baltimore said he's not opposed to the District having a baseball team again, and caught a lot of flak for saying so.

Paul Dickson: The National Pastime has to be in the national city, the District of Columbia.

DR: Why is that so important? Last time I saw a game there, nobody was there - 1969 with Ted Williams in the dugout and about eight people in the stands.

PD: You gotta be kidding, 1969? That team was owned by Bob Short, who did the same thing to the Senators that [Bob Irsay] did to the Colts. Short wanted the team to fail and it did. He charged more for parking back then than they get for the crab-cake platter at Camden Yards today. Washington has changed. Come down and see the area around the MCI Center. You have Metro, a lot more people and much different city.

DR: I got an earful from an Orioles official last week about how a franchise in D.C. will cut up the media revenue pie too much, and Baltimore won't be able to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in player salaries, and we'll end up here with two mediocre franchises within 40 miles of each other.

PD: I recall the three words Jim Palmer was alleged to bestow on Earl Weaver when he complained: "Waa Waa Waa." All this stuff about revenue pie is depressing and based in little more than vague theory. There are two teams in Chicago and you never hear them complaining about pie.

DR: A better comparison might be San Francisco and Oakland.

PD: You still gotta put on a good show. I will still go to Camden Yards even if there is a new team here.

DR: Come on. You'll still go to Camden Yards if there's a team 15 miles from your house?

PD: Yes. My kids grew up in Memorial Stadium. I love Baltimore and, truth be told, I can't think of a better place to spend a Sunday afternoon than at Camden Yards. Despite the DH, I prefer American League rivalries.

DR: Look at the All-Star team. Look who's in the playoffs each year. The Yankees dominate, and that's not going to change unless the owners share revenue or cap salaries. You don't seem to appreciate the unique position the Orioles are in. They're in the AL East. They can't get past Boston and New York unless they spend big bucks and apparently, even with all of Peter Angelos' lawsuits, they are not going to be able to spend big bucks if a Washington team cuts into the broadcast revenue. We are going to end up like Kansas City and Milwaukee so your D.C. dandies won't have to drive to Baltimore to use their cell phones in box seats.

PD: That's such a tired argument - that Washington is all suits and corporate boxes and the Baltimore fans are real people who work for a living. There are worse things than being like Kansas City or Milwaukee.

DR: In terms of baseball and ever getting into a World Series, what's worse?

PD: Try no baseball. Fact is, with no team in Washington there still does not seem to be a way for the Orioles to come up with the kind of money that the Yankees can. So what can they do? Probably what they are doing now. Look around at both leagues; there are teams in contention that do not have the money that the Yankees or Red Sox have.

DR: How can you justify putting a baseball team in a city with such a miserable track record of supporting one? Most of the people who live there probably grew up fans of some other team.

PD: The image of Washington as a transient population is flawed. It was true for many years beginning with World War II, but a lot of those people stayed when the place expanded and they had kids who were born here and live here now. Also, folks from elsewhere transfer their allegiances. I'm from New York, a short subway ride from Yankee Stadium, and I have totally transferred my allegiance away from the Yankees.

DR: So you're saying a baseball team in D.C. will be a success, where it failed twice, and the Orioles can get into the playoffs again by spending a third of what the Yankees do, and that you, a Montgomery County guy, will go to both ballparks to see both teams. Fantastic! Hey, what's the issue?

PD: If D.C. gets a team, the first order of the day is for the Baltimore revenue-pie whining to stop and get on with the business of building a great team. Despite their failings I think this is a fun Orioles team to watch. (I was there for the Atlanta Sunday meltdown two weeks ago and still want to come back.) Will I go to both ballparks? Absolutely.

DR: I wouldn't get your hopes too high, pal. I don't think the owners are going against the commissioner and Angelos on this. Is anybody down there really going to be crushed by that news?

PD: Actually, I think that it will be upsetting to a lot of people and in the long run it will be bad for baseball. The reward for a team in D.C. is creation of a baseball-loving region that will elevate all teams. But if Angelos and his buddies prevail and put the Expos in Portland or San Juan, don't expect thank-you notes from all the D.C. fans who have been going to Baltimore to get their baseball fix. You can't tell me that putting a team in Puerto Rico will make the Orioles' slice of the revenue pie increase or even stay even. The Orioles still have a product to sell and they have to work at selling that product -- D.C. team or no D.C. team.

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