While I was on vacation. District Liners were reminded that another year had passed without major league baseball in Washington.
There was much discussion in the newspapers and on the air. Baseball fans wondered. "Why are we still without a team?" The answer provided by club owners and sports reporters was that nobody in Washington was willing to put up the money for a team.
This is pure nonsense. Please permit me to set the record straight.
Several Washington people have made repeated efforts to buy teams. Joe Danzansky, Mary Willig and Bob Schattner offered Bob Short $7 million for the Senators in an effort to keep them here. A high baseball official urged the three men to raise their bid to $9 million, a high price for a franchise that Short said was no good.
The offer was raised to $9 million, but Short refused to sell and the American League gave him permission to move to Texas.
Danzansky, Willig and Schattner tried again. They offered C. Arnholt Smith $12 million for the San Diego Padres, and he accepted. Danzansky gave Smith a hefty down-payment check, which Smith cashed at once.
That deal was foiled when the City of San Diego balked at letting Smith break his stadium contract. So, instead of giving permission for the Padres to leave town, the league found a buyer who paid $10 million to keep the team there.
Thereafter, Ted Lerner offered Horace Stoneham $10 million for the failing San Francisco Giants. Stoneham refused the offer because he, too, had a stadium contract and couldn't deliver a movable team. Eventually, he had to sell out for $8 million to San Francisco buyers.
When there was talk of National League expansion into Toronto and Washington, league president Chub Feeney invited the Lerner group to attend a league meeting in Chicago.
At breakfast on the morning of the meeting. Feeney asked whether the group was prepared to pay $10 million for an expansion franchise. Schattner said the group was prepared to pay any price that made economic sense, whether it was more than $10 million or less than $10 million. "We want no salaries or expenses for ourselves," he said, "and we're not looking for profits. Show us some numbers that add up to a break-even operation and we'll pay that price."
Feeney wasn't satisifed with that reply and posed his question again. "Will you pay $10 million?" He got the same answer, and frowned. I said, "Chub, we're not the key to this deal, Toronto is. If you can persuade Toronto to join the National League, we're willing to pay the same price Toronto pays. If you can't get Toronto, you won't take us at any price and it won't make any difference how much we're willing to pay. Right?" Feeney finished his coffee, stood up and said. "I've got to get the meeting started." Toronto declined to change its decision to join the American League for less than $7 million, and that stopped the expansion move in its tracks.
Lerner offered $10 million for the Baltimore Orioles. Nothing doing. I was delegated to try to negotiate with Charles O. Finley, but Finley wouldn't even talk to the Washington bidders unless they first sent him a certified check for $1 million. After he got the million, he'd tell us how much he wanted for his team.
If you'd like to buy a team on those terms, be my guest. I'll provide you with Charlie's unlisted phone numbers.
The bottom line on these and other efforts to bring baseball back to Washington is this: There is no lack of interest here. There is no lack of money. Several teams are on the market because they have not been moneymakers, but it wouldn't do us any good to have Washington people buy them because every major league team except Baltimore is tied to a long-term stadium contract and can't be moved. When the Danzansky group tried to move the Padres, they were hit with a suit for $77 million for the damage a move would allegedly do to San Diego's economy.
No money here for a baseball team? Baloney. The record says otherwise.
Our problem is that cities fortunate enough to have major league teams take effective action to keep them. Washington's best chance is therefore expansion, and the logical place for the next expansion move is in the National League.
When the NL finds an attractive city to twin up with Washington, we are likely to see baseball in RFK again. Until then, we are not.