WHY DO PEOPLE keep talking about bringing baseball back to Washington? Don't they know what we'd get? We'd get the old Washington Senators back. Why don't we just resign ourselves to the best baseball in the world being played 40 miles up the road?
Don't get me wrong. I was born a Senators fan. As a Little League first baseman, my hero was Mickey Vernon (and, oh, how it hurt when he booted an easy grounder to lose this year's Old Timers' game!) I'm not unsympathetic to Washington baseball, but I'm not suffering from terminal nostalgia either. There were good reasons why not enough fans went to the games to keep the Senators in Washington. Three should be enough: 63-96 in 1971, 65-96 in 1968, and 56-106 in 1963.
Edward Bennett Williams is not going to bring his Orioles to Washington. For those of you not familiar with the vicissitudes of Maryland culture, the folks in Baltimore have never shown quite the same concern for due process that we do in Montgomery County. Williams would be lynched if he tried such a stunt, and there's no reason to think that William Donald Schaefer and the city council would look anywhere other than the other way as he was strung up.
What team would Washington get? Maybe we'd get the hapless Cleveland Indians who have more people selling beer and hot dogs on an average night than buying tickets. Who wants them? Or maybe we'd get an expansion team. Some fun, huh?
The notion of giving up rooting for the high-flying Birds of Baltimore in order to cheer on a retread of the doormat Senators is a real loser. Remember the stock joke: "Washington -- first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League"?
Now, the Orioles, that's another story. It's a genuine thrill to watch those guys play. I caught Orioles fever on an extraordinary night of baseball in Baltimore about 12 months ago, and it has only gotten worse. The ailment hit during a doubleheader with the Milwaukee Brewers. The division title was on the line on a beautiful Friday night in early October. Pitching, hitting, fielding, the works. Fifty-one thousand, eight hundred and eighty three cheering, roaring, stomping, delirious fans shook Memorial Stadium that wild and wonderful night.
Orioles fever means a constant companionship with Channel 20 and I-95 from April through October. I recently found myself glued to a transistor radio walking through the rabbit barn of the Montgomery County fair. The details of the last- minute victory were lost to the chatter of the crowd in the hall of homemade jellies and pies.
I was in Baltimore last month when, with the Birds improbably trailing Toronto 3-1 in the ninth, a few hundred people started heading for the exits. Not me. As Yogi Berra has said and the Orioles have proven in recent weeks: "It's not over 'til it's over." They tie the game. Tippy Martinez picks off the side. No kidding. Ripken homers. Sakata homers. Victory. The Birds turn a yawner (excuse me, a pitchers' duel) into the thrill of a baseball lifetime.
Sure, it's a long drive to Baltimore and the parking stinks and on occasion so does the third baseman. You get home late and some nights the right-handed reliever couldn't get your mother out. And, of course, they can go into nosedives that make you long for their Rochester farm club.
But all in all, the boys on 33rd Street are some kind of terrific. Why, oh why, would anyone want to bring back the Washington Senators?
It doesn't take much imagination to figure out what that might mean. Just look at the western division standings. A hint: you'd save yourself some time if you read from the bottom up. The old-old Washington Senators that went to Minnesota in 1961 were whipped by the Orioles six straight in the last month. The Birds beat the new-old Senators that left for Texas in 1972 nine out of 12 this year.
No matter what team Washington got -- a previous Senators team, an existing team looking for a home or an expansion club -- it wouldn't compare to the Orioles in Baltimore.
Washingtonians live in a bad news city where the news media devote most of their attention to making pygmies of our political leaders. Our city needs heroes, not losers. And it needs to know that people can get results, that things can go right. It would be a catastrophe to waste the talents of Tom Boswell on a cellar dweller when there are genuine heroes to chronicle in Baltimore.
A few years ago, when Williams bought the club, the smart money said that he would move it to Washington within a year. After all, it was said, Edward Bennett Williams did not buy a baseball team in order to drive his fancy friends to Baltimore. It's a bum rap on a fine town. Home of Poe, Mencken and Ruth, Baltimore has lots to offer in addition to the winningest team in baseball for the last quarter of a century -- seafood and pasta, Harborplace and Hopkins, Pimlico and the new symphony hall. Led by an old-fashioned mayor who reminds us that government can work (and who pushed through a new road that makes it easier for Oriole fans from the south to get to the ballpark), Baltimore has completed an urban renaissance that other cities envy.
In Washington, unlike Baltimore, rhetoric is often an acceptable substitute for action. I know it's patriotic to support the effort to bring the nation's pastime to the nation's capital. So let's make a deal. You say whatever you want. But, please, don't bring the Senators back to Washhington.