- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

The annual inductions in gorgeous Cooperstown, N.Y., always pay homage to baseball’s glorious past — definitely a good idea considering that the sport’s future might be much less so. The parade of past Hall of Famers to the podium serves as a necessary reminder that this game once truly was our national pastime.

For fans in the Washington area, Sunday’s ceremonies were particularly poignant. On a suitably murky afternoon, we got a peek at baseball’s best and worst — the latter personified by the presence of commissioner Bud Selig and Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Until further notice, it’s reasonable to assume that these twin towers of horsehide demonry are the guys who are keeping major league baseball out of Washington — Angelos because a team here might lower the value of the Baltimore franchise he is trying to sell and Selig because he apparently wants to keep Angelos happy.

Why does Bud want to keep Pete happy? Don’t ask me; I haven’t got a clue. But since Washington is the only logical home for the Montreal/San Juan Expos, we must conclude that the Orioles/Angelos factor is the biggest reason our baseball birthright hasn’t been restored for next season after a lapse of 32 years.

What in the name of Clark Griffith prevents Selig from stepping in front of a microphone and saying something like “I am happy to announce that starting in the spring of 2004, the Montreal Expos will play in Washington, D.C., which has been without a team much too long”?

I’ll tell you what prevents this. Angelos, baseball’s most effective barrister since Edward Bennett Williams, has convinced Selig that a team in Washington would drastically hurt the Orioles. Perhaps neither is aware that the presence of both American League and National League teams in the same region actually can create more interest in baseball and therefore help both.

Or perhaps Selig and his owners still plan to contract the Expos after the 2006 season, when the expiration of their current agreement with the players association would permit them to do so. Meanwhile, the expense of maintaining the franchise is costing each of the 29 other club owners a few million a year.

And these club owners — men who have been vastly successful at other enterprises — are willing to follow the lead of a former used car salesman like Bud Selig? I tell ya, something smells funny here.

During Sunday’s exercises, I wonder if Gary Carter, baseball’s ever-exuberant Kid, and Eddie Murray, the reserved personification of the old Oriole Way (meaning the right way), reflected on how far the game they love has sunk in logic and public esteem.

Probably not, because baseball people in and out of uniform have been deluding themselves about the status of the sport for a long time.

With the Arlington County Board’s decision not to allow a ballpark in its territory, the obvious future location for the Expos should be smacking Selig and Co. over the head. Read my lips (as former President George H.W. Bush might have put it Sunday in Cooperstown): W-A-S-H-I-N-G-T-O-N.

Arlington’s recommendation effectively seems to remove Northern Virginia as a rival, although Virginia Baseball Club officials vow to continue the fight. I feel sorry for Bill Collins, Gabe Paul Jr. and all the others who have pursued a team for more than a decade across the river. The idea of a club further from Baltimore, with the nation’s capital’s monuments gleaming beyond the outfield walls, had much appeal. But now the District is the only sensible answer.

“It’s a lot different these days,” said Charlie Brotman, the dean of Washington sports publicists, who has been working with prospective D.C. ownership groups since the expansion Senators departed in 1972. “For years, Washington pleaded its case to Major League Baseball. But now it seems baseball needs Washington more than Washington needs baseball.”

Well, maybe.

“The problem is, a lot of owners think it’s the same here as it was 30 years ago because they haven’t been here since,” Brotman said. “They think we still have a metropolitan population of 1 million, that we still have race riots, that people get around in antiquated buses. I’ve talked to owners who don’t even know we have one of the nation’s best [subway] systems.”

Hey, guys, time for homework. And when you do the arithmetic, you may realize that Washington makes the only dollars and cents sense.

“Actually, I’m optimistic this time,” Brotman insisted. “Bobby Goldwater [executive director of the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission] has done a great job of attending [baseball] meetings and getting the word out. He has the contacts we need. He’s the best thing to happen to Washington in a long time.”

Native Washingtonian Brotman broke into baseball as assistant publicity director and P.A. announcer for the original Senators in 1956, which somehow seems further away than 47 years. If we ever do get our own team, I can just hear him leaning over his mike on a sunny spring afternoon and saying, “Your attention please: Here are the starting lineups for today’s game …”

You see, dreams die hard.

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