THE RECENT SALE of the Baltimore Orioles to Edward Bennett Williams has triggered a series of potshots at Washington that Washingtonians have learned to live with as a condition of citizenship. In the case of the Orioles, the argument makes a quick leap from the particular to the pervasive, winding up at the conclusion that Washingtonians don't really deserved a baseball team because real people don't live here.Instead we are merely a city of transients who happen to be passing under the shadow of the unjolly, greedy federal giant who can outbid any city for the best museums, the stateliest monuments, the winningest baseball teams. In effect -- goes the argument -- we are not a normal city at all; and in fact that accusation has just enough truth in it to imply its own mefense.
The Orioles issue itself has no place in the argument. A private citizen has simply bought a private enterprise; and if the previous Orioles' owners had wished to make the matter more sentimental, and did not want to risk sending the team to Washington, they should have said: no sale.
On the general argument, however -- that federal dollars compete unfairly with fund-raised efforts in other cities -- that certainly is true. But it cuts two ways. To be sure, one of the advantages Washington gains by its peculiar status is first dibs on museums and monuments. But one of the things it loses in the bargain is the sense of home town, unshared pride in the very things those federal dollars buy. The rights that accure to the nation's capital carry some stiff, if tacit penalties -- penalties borne by the people who live here, transient and otherwise. Few Washingtonians have the exclusively down-home feelings for the Jefferson Memorial or the National Gallery of Art, for example, that the people of -- say -- Baltimore have for the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The problem of the Orioles will be setteld eventually as every such problem is settled, with one place cheering, and the other fuming -- the way it happened with Brooklyn and L.A. Milwaukee and Atlanta, and, yes, with Washington and Texas. But on the larger, tougher bone of contention, let our friends to the north chew on this: Every time this city acquires something to reaffirm itself as the nation's capital, its people lose a little, too. And when something as normal and home town as a baseball comes within range, we may be forgiven for behaving normally eager.