THE WASHINGTON Orioles? That, the sports punidits tell us, is precisely what Edward Bennett Williams has in mind for the Baltimore baseball team he is to acquire this fall in exchange for $12 million. Maybe so. But we will believe it on the day we see Jim Palmer, Ken Singleton, Earl Weaver and all the rest trot out onto the field at RFK Stadium -- and not before.

The history of the flirtation between this city and major league baseball is too agonizing to permit any more optimism than that. Ever since Calvin Griffith took the Senators (I) to Minnesota and Bob Short took the Senators (II) to Texas, there have been reports and dreams and speculations that one team or another would move in to fill the void in the nation's capital. Each of them proved false. So it seems wise, or at least prudent, to take Mr. Williams at his word -- the Orioles will stay in Baltimore, he says, as long as the fans there support them adequately -- and not get our hopes up again.

Still, there may be powerful incentives for him to bring the Orioles and baseball back to Washington. And these alone are enough to justify the dreams the sports pundits are spinning out. The trouble is that Washingtonians stopped believing not just in dreams, but also in logic about baseball when the San Diego team slipped out of their grasp in 1974 after everything had seemed to be locked up.

Not that everyone here doesn't hope the Orioles will move to town. This city, and its sports fans, deserve a baseball team. And, if the experience of the Baltimore-Capital-Washington Bullets is any guide, the fans here won't mind one bit if that team gradually slips down i-95.

For while Baltimoreans would undoubtedly regard a transfer of the Orioles to Washington as grand larceny, Washingtonians will not only be willing but actually eager to encourage Mr. Williams to commit it. There would be poetic hustice in the crime, since Baltimore got its present-day Orioles by sneaking the old Browns out of St. Louis. A charge of grand larceny would be a small price to pay to get the lights on and the baseballs flying again on East Capitol Street. Washington feels about baseball the way Charles Colson said he felt about the reelection of Richard Nixon: If you have to run over your grandmother -- will, some thins are just very important.