- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

Much of the Washington area's long quest for baseball has been centered on a new stadium and with good reason. All pro sports have a long-documented and deep edifice complex, and no one questions that baseball cannot survive and flourish here without a new ballpark; preferably one that does not cripple its host jurisdiction in the process.
That's why bid groups in the District and Northern Virginia are working to refine their stadium development plans. Most recently, Washington leaders have centered on the RFK Stadium area, two spots between Mount Vernon Square and Union Station, land west of the Southeast Federal Center, and the area directly north of Union Station as potential sites.
But building a stadium would be only the start of the battle of building baseball in the Washington area. If a club is relocated to the District or Northern Virginia, the group there must at once build an effective sales and marketing operation, begin ticketing, create formal mechanisms for community outreach, negotiate all-important broadcast contracts, set up its entire baseball operations and hire nearly 200 staff members.
In essence, a business generating more than $130million per year in revenue at the outset and footholds in areas as diverse as real estate and international player scouting must be created nearly from scratch, and perhaps within a matter of weeks. Baseball history is rife with major, last-minute changes to team operations or locales, with former contraction candidates Montreal and Minnesota and the Seattle Pilots-turned-Milwaukee Brewers only the most recent of examples.
It's a challenge both local groups relish and say could be done inside of a month if required.
"We're all guilty of getting too fixated on the physical, but there is a whole host of needs beyond that needing to get done in the event of a [team] move," said Bobby Goldwater, president of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission. "I think about it all the time. Anything can get done in a very short period of time. It's a matter to what degree and how well."
When the Pilots moved to Milwaukee in 1970 and the Washington Senators to Texas following the 1971 season, both moves were chaotic. Somewhat similar to legal challenges now surrounding the Expos, the Pilots spent the winter of 1969-70 in bankruptcy court. Baseball executives furiously tried to find new owners to calm Seattle's unstable and unprofitable situation. Nothing worked, and by the time the sale to Bud Selig's Milwaukee-based group worked through the bankruptcy court, just seven days remained before Opening Day.
Little had been done in advance on ticket and sponsorship sales and marketing. Even worse, Selig and the Brewers faced a jilted fan base still scarred from the move of their beloved Braves to Atlanta four years earlier and the dominance of the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin.
The Rangers did not fare much better. Owner Bob Short, having six months to prepare for the 1972 season in Texas, succeeded in expanding Arlington Stadium. But that marked the high point of preparations for the move. Little marketing was done to promote the legendary Ted Williams, who moved with the club to manage that first year as a favor to Short and then departed after a 54-100 season. Short was gone himself a year later. Attendance, supposedly a prime issue in the move from Washington, barely improved in 1972 (662,974) from the final year at RFK Stadium (655,156).
The Brewers and Rangers continued to face significant troubles in their early days, fueled in part by their inability to set up solid baseball and business operations right away. It took six years before the Brewers became one of the top draws in the American League and nine before a winning team emerged.
Success came a bit faster for the Rangers, with four winning seasons in their first eight years. But the club remained a mediocre draw with fans until the Ballpark at Arlington opened in 1994, 22 years after the move from Washington.
To this day, neither team enjoys a strong national following, and the two have only five postseason appearances between them.
"As we obviously saw, these [moves] can happen with very little advance notice," said Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.
Paul was director of stadium operations for the Brewers and recalled, "In Milwaukee, we had the benefit of an organization [Seligs Teams Inc.] that had begun some preparations before the Pilots actually moved, and obviously some knowledge about what the Braves had done before. But it was a hectic time. If a similar situation happens here, everything can and will certainly get done. But certain things will simply need to wait and be done as the season progresses."
If a team does move to the Washington area, local owners would inherit all existing club functions, assisting the transition, and many team employees would likely relish the opportunity to keep their jobs. But many front-office positions would need to be refilled, and that inheritance would be of a failed team needing to be heavily repackaged for a local audience and improved across the board.
With so many unknowns, neither bid group has spent much time so far laying out specific operational plans for a new franchise. Both are mindful of the damaging uncertainty experienced in Milwaukee, Texas and currently crippling Montreal.
"Our goal, whether a team is here in 2003 or some other time, is to have a world class organization," said Winston Lord, executive director of the Fred Malek-led Washington Baseball Club. "We feel confident, looking at what Montreal was able to do under their circumstances, that we can put together a great organization in five months, two months or even a week if we had to, and one that can represent baseball well."


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