Given hardly any time to recover from the shocking elopement and departure of starting pitchers Emily Caitlin and Pappy Doyle, Washington Senators fans were rocked by another explosion this week -- the horrifying possibility that Tang Ye-lin will move the team.
The story broke on Thursday when Senators trainer Boo Wee Kyun opened a letter from his sister, Tai Foon, enclosing a clipping of "Yung Ideas" from the August 17 issue of Taiwan Today. In it, veteran Chinese- language sportswriter Dik Yung detailed Tang's financial problems, which apparently began when scores of backers pulled out of Tang's proposed patriotic theme park "Contra Land." Dik asserted Tang was perilously close to insolvency, citing the selling of reserve third baseman Jimmy Wilcox to the Kuwaiti Gas Princes of the Persian Gulf League, and Tang's instructions not to replace either Caitlin or Doyle on the roster.
Dik claimed Tang was furious at the Barry administration for dragging its heels on the promised sky boxes at RFK Stadium. Finally, Dik quoted Tang as vowing, "We gotta get out of this place if it's the last thing we ever do."
Boo read the column to the team a few hours before the Senators were to play the Tigers, and the next thing he saw was 21 players, a manager and four coaches grabbing their cellular telephones to call 1) their agents, 2) their realtors and 3) "The George Michael Sports Machine."
Within minutes, the local sports media had swarmed on RFK like locusts. Because the clubhouse was closed, sportscasters had to scramble for their 6 p.m. shows. Frank Herzog interviewed former Senators Roy Sievers and Chuck Stobbs, who promised to buy the team if they won the Maryland baseball lottery they've been promoting. George Michael and Joe Gibbs discussed what the Senators' move might mean to the Redskins. Glenn Brenner called Dik Yung in Taiwan and asked him what he was eating for dinner and could he recommend a good laundry. Channel 5 preempted its evening movie to run a special called "Tang's Takeout Order: One Team to Go."
Senators GM Elliott Suskind was mightily miffed at being summoned away from a poker table where he was flanked by Art Schlichter and Joe Theismann. ("I'm sitting there with Flipper on one side of me and Moby Dick on the other, and you come hokking me about Tang? What's the deal here, you looking for a Ted Koppel merit badge?") Still, he did speak briefly to reporters, at first dismissing Tang's comment with a smirk: "Tang's an Eric Burdon fan. He was singing, and Dik, a soul whose intentions were good, simply misunderstood." But when Suskind was asked to guarantee that the Senators would be playing in RFK next season, he waddled and limped theatrically and said, "Quack, quack, quack," a reference one can only construe as confirmation that the Washington Senators are indeed a lame duck team.
Tang was unavailable for comment. According to PR honchette Bobbi Fleckman, Tang has been on the road all week, meeting with politicians and business leaders in Indianapolis, Denver, Vancouver, Miami, Tampa-St. Petersburg and everybody's favorite gravel pit, Irwindale, Calif. "I can't tell you what he's doing," Fleckman said, "but do the words 'Baltimore Colts' mean anything to you?"
However oppressive the heat and humidity have been this summer, that burden pales compared with the weight of the prospect of yet another Washington baseball shipwreck. Tang's wanderlust has cast a gruesome pall over the whole city as Washingtonians wait desperately to see what he'll do. Folks here haven't felt this kind of tension since Marriott asked us to vote on Big Boy. Will Tang go, like the archvillains of Washington's baseball past, Calvin Griffith and Bob Short? Or will he stay forever, like "Agronsky & Company"?
WJLA's consumer advocate program "Seven on Your Side" reported its switchboard operators had logged 12,500 calls since the story broke. The latest tally showed 117 calls in favor of the Senators' moving (including a group calling itself Justice for Robert Irsay), 12,308 opposed, 35 wrong numbers and 40 callers hoping to be contestants on "Wheel of Fortune."
Of those opposed to the Senators' moving, nearly 60 percent of the callers -- many quite willing to leave their names -- threatened to kill Tang if he moved the team.
Reaction throughout the Washington political community was swift and impassioned: Mayor Barry took some time off from his yardwork at David Brinkley's house to charge Tang with "fomenting an unnecessary crisis" and offered to meet with him "anytime, anywhere . . . How about on the 'Donahue' show?"
U.S. Sens. Quentin Burdick, Bob Dole, Lloyd Bentsen, Lowell Weicker, Jay Rockefeller and Dan Quayle -- members of the so-called "Bullpen" that exercised such influence in bringing baseball back to Washington -- immediately condemned Tang for even hinting at a move and proposed legislation to keep the team here and strip Tang of his citizenship. (White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater issued a statement saying, "President Reagan had not been told that Mr. Tang was thinking of moving the team, and therefore has complete deniability in this matter.")
Three major Senators creditors -- Cadenza Catering, Times Beach Waste Management and Liddy's State of the Art Laundering Services -- swore off working for Tang until he promised to keep the Senators in Washington. ("Unless, of course, he pays cash," Vera Cadenza said, shrugging her broad shoulders. "I mean, nothing personal, but business is business.")
Perhaps the most intriguing response came from the mayor of Rockville, Steven Van Grack, who offered Tang "a deal so good Don Corleone and Monty Hall would drop dead." Van Grack held a news conference in front of Syms Inc. in which he exhorted Tang to move the Senators up Rockville Pike, declaring, "Rockville is ready for the major leagues!"
He then unveiled a plan for constructing a 52,000-seat stadium with sky boxes, valet parking, gourmet food, indoor- outdoor pool and styling gel in the restrooms, to be financed wholly by user taxes on such popular Red Line/Rockville/ Montgomery County items as Polo shirts, Jaguars, sun-dried tomatoes, Reeboks, Corona beer, Outback Red tank tops and Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Rallying the citizens of Rockville to his side, Van Grack said, "We want the Senators, we need the Senators, and we love the Senators." He then stunned the crowd by adding, "We know how hot and sticky it gets in the summer here, and to prove how far we're going to go for Tang Ye-lin and the Senators, we're willing to erect a dome, not just over the stadium but over the entire city, to assure the Senators they'll be able to live and work in air-conditioned, climate-controlled comfort every day of their lives. Mr. Tang, you want a dome? Rockville will give you a dome!" :: SENATORS STUFF: Senators, in disarray after news of possible shift, lost four-game series to Tigers, finished week at 2-5 amid confusion as to whether they should send dry cleaning out or not . . . Players keeping mum about about possible move, but emerging leaders Bad Dude Harding and Windy Jackson rumored to be readying symbolic response for next week . . . Walid and Bahloo Sadir looking at recent news footage from Tehran aghast to see Ayatollah Khomeini has turned their father's midtown tailor shop into "Hostage and Tourist Information Booth" manned by revolutionary guards wearing T-shirts that say: "Come to Iran and Say Hello to the 12th Century" . . . Little Stevie Ruffin so impressed with Don King's "thronization" of Mike Tyson he asked pitching coach Mark Amsterdam to give him crown of "fabulous doodads" if he ever wins again . . . Bad news from Baltimore: Fred Lynn on disabled list again with re-injured shoulder. "Yeah, he probably fell off the training table," joked Oscar Madison . . . Next Tuesday's game against Twins with Joe Niekro pitching is "Emery Board Night." Manicurists in for half-price. ::