Baseball's return to Washington seems to depend on what Charlie O. Finley does in Oakland.
And whole minutes have passed now without a scream out of him.
This is unnatural.
What's he up to?
Finley usually keeps his mouth shut for no more than five or six seconds.
Then he calls Bowie Kuhn a naughty name.
Baseball's owners met for one day in Kansas City a couple weeks ago. Because newspapermen know Finley is incapable of sustained silence, they stayed within earshot.
But Charlie didn't say anything.
He was, in fact, a gentleman.
This is very unnatural.
Finley holds every major league record for bad manners.
So what's he up to with this charade of silent charm?
Maybe he's decided to sell the A's. Or maybe he wants to move the team. And he's being a nice guy so the other owners will give him permission.
No one knows, because Finley isn't saying. These are hard times for a 60-year-old man with heart problems. The Internal Revenue Service is said to be investigating Finley's financial affairs. His insurance company lost its biggest group-insurance client to a competitor. He's in the middle of a divorce that is expected to cost him a bundle. The A's are a bad baseball team and only sadists are paying to watch them despoil the grand game.
Any one of those problems would be reason enough for a rational man to unload a baseball team that is losing him money every season. Finley seldom has been touched by the gentle hand of reason, though. The opposite is true. The record shows clearly that Finley is most likely to do the thing that seems most improbable; he lives for the perverse joy of creating consternation.
So let's say he won't sell the A's.
Then he'd like to move out of Oakland.
That's where Washington comes in.
If any major league team moves, or if a new team is created, that team will - most likely - be here. That's because Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner, made a promise six years ago to bring baseball back to his hometown, and Congress, for one, isn't letting him forget it. As a small boy, Kuhn worked on the scoreboard at Griffith Stadium, hanging numbers and falling in love with the game, and he believes baseball ought to be part of the nation's capital.
But baseball with Charlie Finley?
The day butterflies carry away the Washington Monument will be the same day Bowie Kuhn allows Charlie Finley to operate a baseball team in the town he loves.
So if Finley won't sell, and baseball won't allow him to move his farcical act here, that means only this: Baseball will watch Finley go broke, and then, perhaps this year or perhaps next, it will take over the A's and move them to Washington.
That would solve three of baseball's problems:
Finley would be gone.
One team, the San Francisco Giants, would be left to the Bay Area market that has demonstrated it will not support two teams.
And Washington would have baseball.
That's all very neat, but even such a neat sequence of events would produce problems that might be unresolvable.
For one, if Oakland moved here, it could not remain an American League team because it would be within the Baltimore Orioles' exclusive league franchise territory.
If Oakland were to become a National League team, that would give baseball two 13-team leagues - in which case, interleague play would be necessary to get balanced schedules. And today the National League isn't ready to accept interleague play, figuring it's a gimmick that would help the American League while gaining the national nothing.
Other possibilities involve moving the Giants or Orioles to Washington while the A's stay in Oakland. But the Giants' owner, Bob Lurie, says he isn't about to leave his hometown, especially when the A's seem doomed. And the Orioles' Jerry Hoff-berger says his team isn't going anywhere.
That leaves it up to Charlie Finley.
And Bowie Kuhn.