- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

Baseball in Washington?

And if so, when?

"Next season is unrealistic it's too soon," Bowie Kuhn said over the phone from his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. "But there is a reason for optimism or at least hope. What Washington needs is a commitment from baseball that it will put a team there when the circumstances are right."

The former (1969-84) commissioner is not neutral on the issue. He was born in Takoma Park and worked the scoreboard at D.C.'s Griffith Stadium for several seasons before entering the Navy in 1944 at age 17. He wants a team in the Washington area very badly, but he is positioned better than most other fans to understand the plusses and minuses.

"I think it may happen, but not next year," Kuhn said. "I've spoken to [commissioner] Bud [Selig] about this many times over the years, and he has always been supportive of Washington. I don't think he would take a position like that unless he really felt that way."

A few months back, Selig identified the Washington area as the "prime candidate" for relocating a team, and MLB president Bob DePuy this week called a team here "inevitable." These statements could mean a great deal, or they could mean nothing. After all, bossman Selig is a former car salesman, so the prospect of trusting him brings to mind Jimmy Breslin's comment in "Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?" his wonderful account of the 20th century's worst team: "Marvelous Marv Throneberry held down first base for the Mets, which is like saying Willie Sutton works at your bank."

Yet we have to trust Selig because he's all we've got. For reasons known only to those involved, he appears to carry more weight than any commissioner since the first, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Maybe it's because he's a former owner himself. All we know is that baseball's current owners appear ready to follow wherever Selig leads.

The latest example: His appointment of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a former adversary, to Major League Baseball's labor negotiating committee. The move makes sense, considering Angelos' reputation as a legal (if not baseball) genius. But whatever happened to the speculation that MLB might want to put a team in Washington to punish Angelos because of his refusal to field a replacement team during the 1994 strike? If Bud and Peter are in bed together, so to speak, doesn't that hurt our chances?

"I don't think that affects Washington at all," Kuhn said. "It just means that they finally got Peter on board."

As Kuhn sees it, Washington's bid has enough other problems the biggest of which is timing.

"Baseball's No.1 focus is getting a new collective bargaining agreement [with the players union] not expansion or relocation. If they don't get it, you're going to see contraction happen. People who say, 'The Expos are doing badly, so let's move them to Washington,' don't see the big picture. There are a lot of complications to Washington's aspirations.

"And D.C. has never had a major figure with enough money to pull off getting a team somebody who will say to baseball, 'Give me a team and I'll get it done.' A [potential] owner has to have lots of money, and he has to be aggressive, somebody like Dan Snyder."

Dan Snyder? That Dan Snyder?

"Yes," said Kuhn, who was instrumental in convincing Redskins president Edward Bennett Williams to buy the Orioles in 1979, "and his success [sic] with the Redskins would be a positive factor for baseball."

Snyder and Robert Johnson, the head of Black Entertainment Television, recently told The Washington Post that they wanted to buy a baseball team for D.C. Of course, William Collins' group in Northern Virginia and Fred Malek's in the District have been working toward the same goal for years and submitted bids to buy the Expos before MLB took over the club for this season.

Kuhn says the area's bid would get a needed boost if there were more support on Capitol Hill. "[Former Mayor William Donald] Schaefer is a great politician, and he got it done in Baltimore," Kuhn said, referring to Charm City's two new stadiums. "I don't see that happening in Washington."

What about President Bush, himself a former MLB owner. Wouldn't it have an effect if he pounded a podium and demanded that baseball put a team in Washington?

"I'm sure it would," Kuhn said. "But I have no idea what his position is on the matter."

If it happens, Kuhn expects a new Washington team to be located in Northern Virginia, where it can attract fans from the District and Maryland, too. And he doesn't begin to buy Angelos' repeated arguments that a team here would cripple the Orioles financially.

"Washington, Baltimore, Richmond the area is certainly large enough to support two teams," Kuhn said. "And historically, when fans have access to both a National League team and an American League team, it keeps daily interest in baseball high. Look at New York. When there was no National League team [1958-61], the Yankees' attendance declined."

So is Kuhn really optimistic that he'll live to see a team return to the nation's capital?

"Optimistic is a bad word I'd rather say hopeful: I'm hopeful [that it will happen] in a short span of years."

In other words, a team for Washington is anything but guaranteed. But as Bowie Kuhn might be the first to tell you, having some hope is better than having none.

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