BECAUSE OF FEARS about foreign travel in wartime, Major League Baseball will not open its season with two games in Tokyo as planned -- an unfortunate setback for a new baseball tradition. Meanwhile, here in the capital of the country that invented the game, an eminently worthy stadium will sit empty (empty, at least, of baseball fans) for the 32nd consecutive Opening Day.
The fact that there will be no baseball at RFK Stadium next month flies in the face of common sense. If a decision had been taken last fall not to let baseball's most forlorn franchise, the Montreal Expos, spend another season in its mostly empty confines, RFK could have been readied for this spring. It's a good ballpark -- nothing fancy like the new generation of stadiums but configured for baseball and a fine place to take in a game. With a population of more than 5 million to draw on and strong local interest in baseball, RFK would provide light, life and noise for a club that's dwelt in darkness for years. It would be the perfect interim home for the Expos (or whatever they'd be called) while the team's long-term future was worked out.
That future is, however, greatly complicated by the nervous insistence of baseball owners on the guarantee of a state-of-the-art new stadium (preferably backed by a lot of public money). Perhaps that will come in time, but right now a weak economy and budget deficits affecting just about every state and local government in the country don't allow for large promises. Soon enough, we believe, the Washington metropolitan area, with its sizable fan base and a number of financial heavy hitters interested in owning a team, will come up with a good package. Several promising stadium sites are being proposed in the District and Northern Virginia.
No baseball team has moved since the Senators left Washington after the 1971 season. Cities have changed -- some have declined or depopulated, some just lost interest in the game. Some, such as Washington and its surrounding area, have grown dramatically. In other professional sports, changes of this kind have been reflected in the movement of teams all over the map. But in baseball, everyone has stayed in place, literally petrified by a fear -- often expressed by Commissioner Bud Selig -- that letting a team move would make the game appear unstable or would break faith with a city's fans, even in places where fans are nearly nonexistent. If Mr. Selig were commissioner of the Gladiator League, there'd still be a franchise in Pompeii.
Maybe a team will eventually play down by the river on M Street SE (one proposed place), or up on North Capitol near Union Station (another). Other possibilities are a new park on the RFK site or in Pentagon City. Wherever the stadium might end up, Washington would provide a welcoming home. In the meantime, the word should be: Next season at RFK.