Name a President, Richard Nixon. Name a man who made millions selling groceries. Joseph Danzansky. Name a congressman. Bernie Sisk. Add a novelist. James Michener, and an impish baseball man. Bill Veeck. Bring in charges of piracy, intimations of a double-cross. Ring up some big numbers: $12 million, $72 million, $120 million. Get Marvin Hamlisch to do the score and we'll take this show to Broadway: "Dear Old Senators, Come Home. But Don't Bring Charlie O."
The Washington Senators were abducted near the end of the 1971 major league baseball season. They were never heard from again, but investigators believe the team was relocated in the South-west and is operating under an assumed name. Ever since the crime. Washington's patrons of baseball have been subjected to the further punishment of hope lifted, hope dashed, as men have tried, even promised, to bring baseball back to the nation's capital.
The latest insult to sensibility came last week. A former Texas congressman, Alan W. Steelman, now living in Reston, said he was negotiating with Charles O. Finley for purchase of the Oakland A's. Steelman's intention, he said, was to move the A's to Washington.
How familiar the melody, how melancholy the memories. Nixon. Danzansky. Sisk, Michener and Veeck are only five characters in a cast of thousands that has made baseball's non return a melodrama maddening for its frustrating turns of events. With the addition of Finley, widely known as the world's leading funnyman, the production predictably became a farce. Finley called Steelman a publicity seeking, nickel-and-dime politician; Steelman said Finley was the real Idi Amin. The deal was off, they both said.
Oh. well. There will be more Steelmans, more Finley, more hope. Patience is our ally for with 3 million people available in one of the country's richest per-capita metropolitan areas, someone someday will put baseball team here. If anything, the history of baseball's nonreturn shows hope to be invincible.
In February, 1972, four months after owner Bob Short moved the Senators to Arlington. Tex., a sportscaster named Ron Menchine implored President Nixon to help bring baseball back. To remind Nixon of how great baseball was. Menchine sent along a tape of highlihgts of the Senator's last game. How was the sportscaster to know Nixon was busy listening to his own tapes?
Danzansky president of Giant Food. Inc., had tried to buy the Senators from Short at the 11th hour in 1971. Later Danzansky hinted he had been used by Short to convince Texas to sweeten the pot. Then, on May 5, 1973, Danzansky and two partners, Robert I. Schattner and Marvin Willig, agreed to pay $12 million to C. Arnholt Smith for the San Diego Padres.
Jubilation. A local newspaper (blush) refered to the team as the San Diego-Washington Padres. Then the city of San Diego filed lawsuits asking $12 million from Smith and $72 million from everyone connected with what the city's mayor called "piracy" of the Padres. Seems Smith had 15 years to go on a lease of the city-owned stadium.
Soon enough, Smith was in all kinds of trouble. In additional to the lawsuit by the city, shareholders in a failed bank sued him for $120 million and he was under investigation for illegal campaign contributions to Nixon. Although Danzansky on Dec. 7, 1973, held a celebration/press con-conference to announce the Nation League's conditional approval of the Padres' sale to him, the deal fell through three weeks later.
Rather than meet the sale's conditions as set down by the league - one bring that the league be protected against any lawsuit, such protection being given it in the form of money from Smith - the beleaguered owner made a new deal, this time selling the team to Ray Kroc, who would keep the team in San Diego and so mollify the city fathers.
Despair in Washington. The newspapers, which had talked about possible managers (Frank Robinson? Frank Howard?) and the new players (Nate Colbert) was the big gun), suddenly were left with business-sports stories.
Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner, was always promising a team for his native town. Danzansky was asked to sponsor 20 big-league games here, he said no, as did Sisk, the Californian who was first to make noise to get baseball back. No tokenism, Sisk said. Veeck, trying to buy the Orioles in 1975, said maybe he'd play some games in Washington; maybe he'd move here the second year.
Maybe, maybe. Maybe the late Edward Cole, the retired president of General Motors, would buy the Orioles and split the season between Baltimore here. Other men were in the papers a lot: men named Theodore Lerner, Steven Rales, Joseph Wheeler and George Heideman. Each had a way to bring baseball back, none did. Maybe Finley will agree to Steelman's terms, including Finley's total absence from the team. Maybe.
Only one thing is certain, and that is what Michener told a congressional committee last year. "For the nation's capital not to have a representative of the national sport is ridiculous."