Washington has a historic chance not only to bring baseball back to this city but also to put black managers on the ball field. That's why the D.C. Baseball Commission is seeking an expansion team with a substantial black ownership.
The plan for ownership in Washington goes beyond tokenism. A combination of local bankers, developers and other businessmen would own 40 percent of the team; wealthy black interests here would own 20 percent; and the remaining 40 percent would be underwritten by the D.C. government.
The 40 percent that would be underwritten by the D.C. government would be sold off over time to minority interests in cities that currently have National League teams. When the plan is completed, minority groups with shares in the D.C. team will have been created in such major league cities as Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York. These groups would sit in the visiting owner's box when the D.C. team is playing in their towns and would help with special promotions with social clubs, churches, civil rights groups, etc. They would put some fun and frolic back into the sport of baseball and put some fans back into the seats.
This financing strategy would give baseball heroes such as Hank Aaron and Joe Morgan an opportunity to own a piece of a team and to remain involved in the sport. Many of the superstars now earn huge salaries while they are playing and have, on previous occasions, indicated an interest in ownership. It's only fair that they should be provided an opportunity to invest in a sport that they helped to create and make popular.
Recent reports, however, have indicated that blacks are not loyal to baseball and do not go to ball games. One article reported that black attendance at major league baseball games averages only about 7 percent, while many of the major cities with franchises, such as Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia, have populations that are over 60 percent black. One would expect black attendance at games in these cities to be much higher. Perhaps the black community is boycotting baseball because officials have shown no loyalty to the black community.
In fact, Washington's season ticket drive, which has sold 15,000 season tickets, proves that blacks will purchase tickets when treated with proper respect and concern. The District of Columbia has a population of 600,000 people and is part of a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area that has 3.7 million people. Although District residents account for only 20 percent of the total population, they purchased over 30 percent of the 15,000 season tickets sold in the recent ticket drive. The 4,500 tickets purchased by District residents during the drive represent a percentage 50 percent greater than their share of the population. This proves that given proper leadership, interest and respect, blacks will buy tickets and support a team.
Mayor Barry and members of the D.C. Baseball Commission will visit cities that have baseball teams and meet with their mayors, team owners and local minority business people. We will tell them that they should push for expansion because Washington and other outstanding markets could be competing for their teams. Until Washington has a team, their franchises could be threatened.
With all the hassle and expense of keeping a franchise, one might wonder why a city such as Washington would be interested in a major league team. The reasons are simple. A major league team in Washington would provide 750 new jobs, generate $2.4 million a year in taxes and $60 million in revenue for hotels and restaurants. It would also provide wholesome family entertainment and prestige for the area.
Baseball owners will hold their winter meeting in Dallas in December, where I expect the issue of discrimination to occupy a large part of the agenda. The D.C. Baseball Commission will make every effort to bring its proposal to the table. We think the owners will be convinced that baseball in Washington would benefit everyone. -- Frank Smith is a D.C. Council member from Ward 1 and chairman of the D.C. Baseball Commission.