THE BEST ARGUMENT for bringing major league baseball back to the nation's capital lies on the other side of the continent, in the San Francisco Bay area. There the San Francisco Giants, playing in a glamorous new stadium, are on a pace to draw 3.2 million fans this year. Meanwhile, the Oakland Athletics, in an old stadium not well suited to baseball, can expect to bring in more than 2 million for home games. And keep in mind that these two stadiums are only about 17 miles apart, not 35 or 40 or whatever distance would separate a Washington area team from the Baltimore Orioles.

One reason both clubs can do well in the same area is that both play good baseball. That could have something to do with a stimulant not currently available in the vast market where Peter Angelos would like to maintain his monopoly (a market containing over a half-million more people than the Bay area). The stimulating factor is called competition, and the Orioles might benefit from a bit more of it -- as would Washington's new team and all of baseball, for that matter.

The good of baseball is Bud Selig's paramount consideration as commissioner, and if he keeps that goal foremost as he considers what's to be done with the failing Montreal Expos, the decision is simple: Move the team to Washington. None of the other contending cities is even close, in terms of population, income or interest in the game.

This is not to say that everything has been arranged in this region exactly the way baseball's owners would like it to be (if such a thing is possible in this earthly realm). The perfect new, publicly built stadium that baseball wants is not guaranteed right now, though there are promising plans to provide a ballpark. And while a number of good locations in the District of Columbia have been proposed, the Northern Virginia site currently on offer is unsatisfactory on a number of counts; the Virginia group ought to keep looking.

But one big thing is certain: RFK Stadium is here now, it's on a subway line, and it can be made ready for baseball in fairly short order. This is a city that's been aching for baseball for a long time, and it's ready to support the game, even if it can't give baseball all the advance assurance it desires. The Expos are hemorrhaging the owners' money, and have been for some time, as they play to nearly empty stadiums. In first-aid class, they tell you that the most important thing is to stop the bleeding. That's what Mr. Selig can do for baseball this summer. Save baseball's sickest franchise, and let Washington play ball.