- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

From longtime slugger Frank Howard to the daughter of Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson to ordinary fans, persons with ties to the old Washington Senators nervously awaited a restoration of their baseball rights yesterday.

With an announcement expected today that Major League Baseball is moving the Montreal Expos to the District, joy battled skepticism in the minds of many who have had their hopes dashed repeatedly since the expansion Senators left in 1971 to become the Texas Rangers.

“If it happens, it would be the greatest thing I could think of,” said Northern Virginia resident Howard, who slugged 237 home runs for the Senators from 1965 to 1971 — including a dramatic blast in the last game here. “When the team left, I said there would be another team within five years because Washington had so many positives. That’s why I never gave up hope, but who could have imagined it would take this long?”

Howard, 68, who has worked in the Yankees’ front office in recent years, said he would be interested in a job with a new Washington team “if it wanted me.” But he added, “I’m still not sure [baseball in Washington] will happen. [The way baseball operates] is so unpredictable — one day you’re in, the next day you’re out …”

Johnson’s daughter, Carolyn Thomas of the District, said she was “thrilled and waiting to hear the final word — it’s been such a long time coming.” Thomas, who is 81, added, “I’m happier for Hank [her son and Johnson biographer Henry W. Thomas] because he’s young enough to enjoy a new team. The people I feel sorriest for are the kids who grew up without a team of their own.”

Referring to the longstanding opposition of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to a team in the Washington area, Mrs. Thomas added diplomatically, “I’ve been pretty distressed by Mr. Angelos, and I’ve never accepted the Orioles [as our team] anyway.”

Phil Wood, a veteran Washington sportscaster and baseball authority who presumably would be under consideration as a new team’s broadcaster, joined Mrs. Thomas in citing the generational aspect.

“When the Senators left, I was 20 and my dad [who died in 1987] was 55,” Wood said. “Now I’m 54 and, yeah, I’m a little skeptical — let me see Opening Day. But if this is the real deal, I’m walking on air. All those people who said baseball could never succeed here, they’re scared to death that a team is going to draw 21/2 or 3 million people [a year] and make them look like fools.”

Wood said the proposed Anacostia riverfront site for a Washington ballpark “is just perfect. I’ve always said that in a perfect world, a Washington team would play in the District [instead of Northern Virginia]. I think Major League Baseball sees another [Baltimore] Inner Harbor here, and the only thing you can assume is that the owners finally did something for the good of the game.”

Public relations executive Charlie Brotman, a former public address announcer for the original Senators and promotions director for the expansion club, said he has been asked to emcee today’s scheduled press conference/celebration announcing the Expos’ move.

“I think I’ve been on every commission trying to bring baseball back for the last 30 years,” Brotman said, “and the best we could ever hope for was a 10 percent chance. Now it’s more like 90 percent.”

Phil Hochberg, a prominent sports attorney and the expansion club’s P.A. announcer from 1962 to 1968, was excited enough “to get out my old Senators jacket for the first time in 30 years — of course it’s a little tighter now.”

Jim Hannan, a pitcher for the Senators from 1962 to ‘70 and now president of the Major League Baseball Alumni Association, said he long has been “mystified how baseball could ignore Washington. It didn’t make any sense with the demographics and TV market we have — and don’t forget you have fans of other teams here from all over the country.”

The closest Washington came to ending its baseball drought previously was when area real estate executive John “Chip” Akridge mounted a strong drive first for “Baseball in ‘87” and then for one of the National League’s two expansion franchises that ultimately were awarded to Florida and Colorado in 1991. Thousands of fans pledged to buy season tickets only to be stiffed by MLB.

“It’s fabulous … fabulous,” Akridge said of this week’s developments. “No, I don’t feel sorry that our group isn’t getting a team — I feel sorry for the fans who had to wait an additional 12 years [after the Marlins and Rockies began play in 1993].”

Despite the general euphoria, Ron Menchine, the Senators’ broadcaster in 1971, sounded a cautionary word.

“Of course I’m excited,” Menchine said, “but we’ve been disappointed so many times. I remember 1974, when [Giant Food president] Joseph Danzansky announced that he had bought the Padres and Topps even put out baseball cards reading ‘Washington National League’ before Ray Kroc bought the team and kept it in San Diego. So I don’t want to celebrate just yet.”

But certainly Menchine, and untold thousands of other fans, are ready to light the candles and eat the cake.

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