- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

The political winds in Washington aimed at bringing major league baseball back to the area are starting to turn from a slight breeze to a whirlwind, one that could put the game in an uncomfortable position if the powers that run baseball choose to ignore it and carry out their threat of contracting franchises without moving a team here.
Last week, Virginia's two senators, George Allen and John Warner, and three Northern Virginia members of Congress Frank Wolf, Tom Davis and Jim Moran fired a patriotic salvo at baseball commissioner Bud Selig. They wrote a letter urging baseball to put a team in the Washington area specifically Northern Virginia, where Bill Collins' group has been waiting six years for a franchise in light of the Sept. 11 tragedy that struck the Pentagon. "Now, more than ever is the time for Major League Baseball to restore the game that calls itself 'America's National Pastime' to the capital region," the lawmakers wrote.
The next step should be to call on the baseball fan that resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. President George W. Bush to make a similar case directly to the commissioner.
Maybe he can do it tonight after he throws out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, which, as of yesterday, he was scheduled to do. It would be an opportune moment to test Selig's notion that baseball is some kind of important social institution with a social obligation, as he has stated.
If not, then the president should do so before the owners meeting Nov. 6 in Chicago to discuss, among other things, this notion of shutting down franchises.
Both of the groups seeking a team Virginia Baseball, headed by Bill Collins, who is looking to put a team in Northern Virginia, and the Washington group, headed by Fred Malek, who wants the team for the District have the political contacts to make such an overture. Collins is well connected in the Republican Party, and Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is chairman of the Republican National Committee. One of the candidates for governor, Mark Warner, used to be an investor in the Collins group. The Malek group an impressive outfit consisting of Malek, former America Online chairman James Kimsey, Fannie Mae chairman Frank Raines, attorney Stephen Porter and others also has strong political connections. Malek was partners with George W. Bush in the ownership of the Texas Rangers, and he was former President Bush's campaign manager in the 1992 election.
Both sides of the river can get the president's ear and should do so now and use all the political weight they can muster because you can't rely on baseball to do the right thing and the smart thing, which would be to move one of these franchises to the Washington area now.
The Virginia delegation letter certainly seemed to raise the stakes, and the District also appears ready to step up its own political efforts. The Malek group got together Sunday in Kimsey's private box at FedEx Field with Mayor Anthony Williams, city councilman Jack Evans and members of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission to discuss what steps could be taken, and taken soon, to force the issue of franchise relocation to the city.
Mayor Williams declared he was determined to create the District's own political whirlwind by recruiting members of Congress from other jurisdictions to come out in favor of bringing a baseball team here. "We want to get bipartisan support for a baseball team in the National Capital region," he said. "Baseball has to be in Washington, D.C."
The case for baseball in the Washington area can stand on its own merits, without the added argument of the patriotic duty of the game a duty Selig has chosen to declare when he sees fit. This is one of the highest per capita income markets in the nation, and baseball is losing money by not being here. Even if you believe the Baltimore Orioles' most ludicrous claim of fan support from the Washington area and both the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission and the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority have refuted those claims with their own studies showing far less than the 25 percent of the market the Orioles claim there are still a lot of people with money in the Washington area who never go to a baseball game or probably buy a jersey or watch it on television. There are fans in the waiting for a game that can't afford to make these fans wait much longer.
However, it has taken on a moral imperative because of the hit this region has taken from the Sept. 11 attack, and the time to move is now. If Selig wants to leave a legacy to the game other than shutting it down for the 1994 postseason, this is one way he could do so. The public relations hit on moving a team to Washington would be tremendous and give the owners the high moral ground for a change in their dealings with the players union in the upcoming negotiations.
In a recent interview with the New York Daily News, Selig talked about the decision he struggled with about the resumption of baseball after the Sept. 11 attack. He said as part of his decision-making process he had conversations with people in Washington, though he chose not to say who. "But I can tell you I was talking to people at the highest levels of government," he said.
It would be a good idea if he had some more of those conversations soon.

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