What will it take to bring major-league baseball back to Washington? Well, for one thing, it will take the right sort of team ownership, says Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and, for another, the sort of "political support" that allows for things like a favorable stadium lease. But perhaps most important, said Mr. Ueberroth during lunch recently with editors and reporters at The Post, is fan support.
And how is fan support measured? "The most visible way is through commitments, hard commitments, for season tickets," he said. "If some community said, 'Here, we have 20,000 season tickets sold for the next five years, really sold,' that's impressive." Asked to be a bit more specific as to what Washington should do, he said: "That's not my job. . . . There are people doing things" (in other cities that want baseball), and he added: "I'm not going to provide directions and start telling everybody what to do." Silence.
It wouldn't be surprising if Mr. Ueberroth enjoyed playing the role of the sphinx on the basepath. He's the successful businessman who was called on to run the summer Olympics and who, without government money, produced a triumph and a profit. Now he's been drafted by baseball to be its wonder worker. He may take a certain pleasure in being blunt with the mighty and the politically powerful, even if it induces some spluttering. But if his talk of coming up with real season-ticket money from a lot of people is unpleasant, it can also be a useful prod to the Washington area's efforts to secure a baseball team -- probably what Mr. Ueberroth intended it to be.
He apparently wants to make it clear that the competition among cities will be tough, that there won't be enough teams to go around, and that he, at least, will consider it unproductive for a city to start pulling political strings to improve its chances (in other words, those 535 legislators in the Washington area might as well be high up in the centerfield bleachers for all the influence they'll have). What counts, in a game where the average player's salary is somewhere around a third of a million dollars, is money.
There is considerable money involved in buying a season ticket. Baseball teams have close to 80 home dates. Multiply that by 7, 10, 12, 15 dollars. How many people and corporations (corporations are very important in this regard; they buy a huge number of season tickets in cities that have baseball) will be willing to write checks of that size to a team that doesn't exist? The answer may be important. D.C. Council Member Frank Smith, who is chairman of the commission seeking to bring baseball to Washington, has proposed that banks allow accounts to be opened into which deposits could be made toward the purchase of season tickets. It looks as if it's time to start thinking about this and similar ideas.