BASEBALL HAS come and gone a long way since it first charmed and then deserted this capital city. But never has the town been more ripe for its return. We know only too well how many times local boosters and money-raisers have struck out since the Washington Senators I and II had their final at-bats. And we've heard those naysayers from elsewhere cite these two departed franchies as reason to brand Washington a loser. But leaving aside any nostalgia-warped recollections and pep-rally ballyhoo from past campaigns, there's a better pitch to deliver to the baseball brass now meeting in Houston:

Greater Washington is not the same place it was then. It's better -- and we mean in cold, practical business terms. There's bigger money to back the team, a bigger metropolitan region to support it and a bigger-than-ever contingent of elected movers and shakers ready to make it work. And there's still a big-league place to play the game, linked to the far corners by a modern subway system and no longer stigmatized by a team owner who played unfairly on fears of crime to build support for moving his franchise away.

There are other practical pluses. Media? Washington's got more of that than any place in the world. Connections with Congress? Attention from the president? Both are a short shot from home place at RFK. As for fans, the income level around here isn't all that bad, either.

Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth said this week that seven teams were up for sale at one time or another this year, which as he notes is one of many reasons for the business to be innovative and agressive in its thinking rather than stuck on old policies and arguments. Jack Kent Cooke, who knows more than a little about sports, is ready to buy. The gang in Houston should let him in.