- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

It's well known that Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos doesn't want a major league baseball team to come to Washington. He sees this as his market, and he isn't interested in sharing it with anyone.

He will have to, though. It's inevitable. But it could be worse for the Man With the X-Ray Machine.

He could be literally sharing his team with the District.

So much has been written and talked about trying to get major league baseball back in Washington since the Senators left and moved to Texas after the 1971 season that some of the scenarios and proposals that had been considered have long been forgotten. But in light of the issue of impact on the Orioles if a major league club moves to Washington, one long-forgotten plan is worth revisiting.

In the winter of 1976, major league baseball came up with a plan to solve the "Washington problem." That plan was for the Orioles to play 26 games at RFK Stadium.

Under the plan proposed by commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the Orioles would have played 13 of their homes games at RFK. Then each of the other existing 13 American League clubs at the time of the proposal would give up one of their home games against Baltimore, instead playing those games at RFK.

That's not all. Washington was supposed to play host to the All-Star Game every third year and also be guaranteed an official "presidential" opening game. Ever since the Senators left, there had been pressure put on the Orioles to solve the "Washington problem." But this plan was the farthest any such talks had ever progressed.

Why? Because the antitrust exemption repeal heat was on in Congress, baby, hotter than it had ever been before or since.

A special House Committee on Professional Sports had its sights set on baseball's antitrust exemption, and the heat was enough that Kuhn pressured major league owners to vote on this plan to share the Orioles with Washington. He first got National League owners to vote on the resolution to play these games in Washington and then went to American League owners for a similar vote. It was reported that only two teams Oakland (because Charlie Finley voted against everything Bowie Kuhn wanted) and Baltimore, for obvious reasons voted against the resolution.

Can you imagine Angelos having to suffer the indignity of losing 13 home dates at Camden Yards to RFK Stadium? He would be begging for the Expos to be moved to Washington.

You know whose idea this was? Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley, the poster boy for the evils of franchise relocation at least among Brooklyn Dodgers fans and anyone else with a heart and a soul. O'Malley pitched the idea to Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger, who agreed to consider it. But it was a difficult pill to try to swallow, and Orioles stockholders threatened to sue Kuhn if he indeed forced the team to play those games in Washington.

Of course, this was all a smoke screen to appease Congress. But owners were sweating it out at the time, because a California Democratic congressman named B.F.Sisk was flying the flag for baseball in Washington and also chairing this special committee. And a month after Kuhn announced his proposal to solve the "Washington problem," the committee issued a report that called for baseball to lose its antitrust exemption.

This was the first time that a Congressional committee had ever voted to end the exemption since the Supreme Court made its 1922 ruling that determined baseball was more sport than business (a quaint notion, isn't it?), and it appeared that unless baseball did something about Washington, it faced the loss of its protection. But a new Congress came in on the heels of the report, and it never gained enough steam to get full Congressional support, and the Orioles never had to become Washington's team for 26 games a year.

It would have been interesting to have watched the future of the Orioles unfold if this plan had been put into place, particularly when Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams bought the team from Hoffberger. The fear in Baltimore was always that Williams wanted to move the team to Washington. What might have happened if Williams owned the team with at least one foot of the franchise in the District? How much easier would it have been for him to move the franchise to Washington under those conditions?

If the "Washington problem" had been solved back then the way baseball officials suggested, it very well could be Peter Angelos hanging on every word and action of Major League Baseball, spending millions of dollars chasing the ghost of a franchise and trying to bring baseball back to his beloved city.

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