- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

All of a sudden, Bud Selig has become one of my favorite people. The best baseball commissioner since Fay Vincent is a splendid chap, full of wisdom, wit and charm. I love his dorky appearance and bean-counter mentality. I've put Bud baby back on my Christmas card list, and I might even buy a Cadillac from him if he throws in a DVD player.

Yes, sir, a finer fellow never existed, in or out of baseball. How could I have written all those mean things about him over the years? The devil must have made me do it.

As you probably can guess, Selig moved to the head of my list Thursday in Phoenix with just two words: "prime candidate." No kidding, that's what he called the Washington area when it comes to relocating a baseball team.

Major league baseball in Washington? Is it just another pipe dream, like all the others since 1971, or is this for real?

Well, in Bud we trust. We have to, because there's no alternative.

This time, though, there's a difference. For the first time, the highest-ranking official in Major League Baseball has confirmed that Washington stands a good chance to get a team, probably in 2003. This is huge. For so many years, our representatives have pleaded with baseball men to recognize our area's advantages to simply acknowledge that the economic and social makeup of the city and its suburbs is far different than in '71. Usually, we couldn't tell if anybody in authority was listening.

Remember Joseph Danzansky and the San Diego Padres near miss of 1973? Remember Chip Akridge and "Baseball in '87"? Remember the National League expansion of 1993, when we lost out to a couple of Sun Belt towns, Miami and Phoenix? Remember all the other false promises that "Washington deserves baseball, but …?"

I remember, all too well.

Now, as usual, all we can do is wait. I really don't care whether Fred Malek's D.C. group or Bill Collins' Northern Virginians land a team, and I don't really care what that team is. The point is to get a team, any team.

A fellow who writes columns across town has suggested a convoluted scenario under which art dealer Jeffrey Loria, who is about to become ex-owner of the Montreal Expos and owner of the Florida Marlins, could wind up in Washington possibly by osmosis. I do care about this, because it would be grossly unfair to have anybody else undercut Collins or Malek and their respective associates who have worked tirelessly for years to restore our rounders birthright.

Personally, I'd like to see a team downtown rather than in Virginia, provided a secure location can be found for a park. But this Maryland resident would be perfectly willing to attend games in the Old Dominion, especially since rumors are rampant that Collins and his people have a site in nearby Arlington.

Ideally, of course, the two groups should merge to provide one of the strongest and richest ownership conglomerates in sports. I don't know if this will or could happen, but I hope so.

One of the side benefits of having baseball here would be to stick it to Peter Angelos, the bellicose barrister who is in the process of destroying the proud Baltimore Orioles franchise.

During Washington's 30-year drought, thousands of area fans switched their loyalties to the Orioles, who used to be an attractive blue-collar team that won pennants. Now Angelos' continued mismanagement, and Cal Ripken's retirement have removed any feeling that most of us have for the O's. It would be very satisfying not to contribute another nickel to Mr. Angelos' pockets.

But if Washington does regain baseball, we're going to have to realize that the sport has changed so much we might have trouble recognizing our erstwhile national pastime. Player salaries are out of sight and so, too, is the twin arrogance of players and owners.

My pal Bud probably thought he was doing everybody a big favor in Phoenix when he announced that the owners would not lock out the players in 2002. Big deal. Why isn't there a permanent federal arbitrator who could forbid future work stoppages unless the two sides have negotiated in good faith instead of tossing threats?

And we'll have to learn, if we don't already know, that you don't buy a ticket for $3, a beer for $2 or a hot dog for $1 anymore. Those days vanished forever when free agency reared its head and players started making more money for a game than Babe Ruth used to make for a season. And now that Cal is gone, your kid might have to attend a card show and pay for his favorite player's autograph, conversation not included.

No, baseball is not what it was any more than life itself is. But you take what you can get, and so we won't quibble when the Expos, Marlins or whomever descend upon a city that spent 71 years in the American League before first Calvin Griffith and then Bob Short abandoned us.

Thanks for your support, Bud Selig, and don't let us down this time. We'll see you at RFK Stadium on Monday, March 31, 2003, when the brand-new Washington Nationals no other name should even been considered open the National League season after President Bush unlimbers his pitching arm.

Let's play ball.


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