Former baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn said yesterday he would be interested in being part of a syndicate of Washington investors that would try to bring a major league club back to the Nation's Capital.
Kuhn indicated in an interview with The Washington Post that he had talked to some potential Washington investors. He said, "Under certain circumstances, I would be interested in being part of a group like that . . .
"I don't know exactly what the devil those 'circumstances' would be," he said. "I couldn't give a list. But I'll know it when I see it."
Kuhn, who would not divulge the names of the possible investors, added, "If I were in that mode, I'm sure I could put together a group of first-class Washington investors in a short time. Washington has so much money sitting around there. When you hear that old bell ring (for a team), it would be no trouble.
"Obviously, I'm not sitting here with an extra $500 million laying around which is helpful if you want to buy a team . . . I would want to play a senior statesman role in such an organization, not be involved with the day-to-day operation. You'd need a real experienced club operator as CEO, but that would still leave plenty of responsibility for a chairman of the board.
"Chairman of the Board," repeated Kuhn. "That has a nice turn to it, don't you think?"
Kuhn, a native Washingtonian, certainly has the credentials to help any local group trying to meet Commissioner Peter Ueberroth's desire for "multiple, roots-oriented ownership" for an expansion team.
"But then," added Kuhn, "everybody has talked to me . . . people from just about every city that wants a team. I've done a lot of talking."
Kuhn emphasized that he had not talked with Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, who has publicly expressed his desire to acquire a baseball team for RFK Stadium. "I like Jack, but he's not one of the people I've talked with," Kuhn said. "I would assume that he wants to buy a team by himself (as sole owner)."
Cooke was unavailable to comment yesterday.
According to Kuhn, the only reason that other potential buyers, besides Cooke, have not identified themselves is that "nobody wants to get too far out in front on something like that and be embarrassed . . .
"No one should question Washington's ability to support major league baseball. I wouldn't. Perhaps I'm being sentimental, having grown up in Washington with the Senators, but I don't think that's my reason. There's no question about Washington's size or demographics or the city's interest in sports."
After years of pushing for a team for Washington as commissioner, Kuhn, who was voted out of office by baseball's owners in 1983, decided in the early 1980s that the Baltimore Orioles might be a solution to the Washington Problem as a regional franchise.
"Key to my feeling that the Orioles might be a regional franchise was that a ballpark be built between Baltimore and Washington," Kuhn said. "I think I said it was a 'potential solution.' I have no sense right now of where the discussion of a new stadium for Baltimore stands."
Frank Smith, head of the D.C. Baseball Commission, said yesterday he was pleased to hear of Kuhn's statements. "I would be impressed if Bowie Kuhn were part of an ownership group," he said, "and I'm sure baseball would be impressed.
"I've heard rumors about Kuhn considering getting involved and I'm glad he's come out and talked about it," said Smith. "He kept the hope and promise of baseball alive here all those years he was commissioner. We owe him a debt of gratitude. He carried our water for a long time."
Smith emphasized that "competition among potential owners or groups of owners is healthy for the city . . . There are groups in this town that could be formed overnight. I have no worry about that. As we get closer to the baseball summer meeting in August, I think we'll see more people go public with their interest. I know at least one group has already met with baseball officials."
According to one commission source, a representative for Washington real estate and shopping center developer Ted Lerner has met with National League President Chub Feeney. Lerner has not been available for comment.
As for Cooke, who was instrumental in focusing Washington's attention on the baseball issue and in reviving the city's name in national discussions of the issue, Smith said, "I know he's working hard to get a team, as he works hard at everything he undertakes. The commission will take no position on who should own the team. That's not our job."
The D.C. Baseball Commission has, however, taken a new tack regarding RFK Stadium renovations. A bill to transfer ownership of RFK from the Department of the Interior to the District government is on the House consent calender and would go to the Senate next for passage.
If the District gets control of the park, "we have to borrow money to fix it up for baseball," Smith says. "It would cost $5.5 million in renovations to get it ready for baseball by the 1987 season. There's another plan for another $12 million in improvements.
"We're sure we can do the $5.5 million job out of general obligation bonds, but we may have to float some special bonds for the other $12 million. We'll make those choices as we go down the road.
"But right now we have to develop a scenario where RFK Stadium will be ready for 1987 regardless of who owns the team. The question of ownership may not be resolved until late this year or early next year and we can't let our time lines slip."
Cooke has said he would pay for $15 million in RFK Stadium improvements out of his own pocket in return for a "master lease" that would make him sole tenant of the park for 20 or more years. Obviously, under such an agreement, no one but Cooke would have a realistic chance of buying a team for Washington.
Baseball's long-range planning committee has recommended that the game expand from 26 to 32 teams in the foreseeable future. "Is baseball committed to six more teams?" Kuhn asked. "No. It's committed to studying the idea . . . I think you'll see two more teams soon and four more later . . .
"No action can be taken until after these labor negotiations are settled, but once they are, it will become a prominent issue," he speculated. "If there is (National League) expansion, I think Washington's chances are respectable and they should be."