In mitten der inning, as my Yiddish-speaking friends would say, meaning right in the middle of everything, including the unfinished major league playoffs, came the breathtaking news that baseball could be returning to the parched Washington area sooner than later.
The Great Return wouldn't exactly occur in Washington proper, but it would be in the neighborhood, thanks to the mayor of Alexandria, Va. It was the mayor who on Wednesday made the big pitch for a baseball franchise, in behalf of his town.
It came out that Mayor Frank Mann was not holding out for a major league franchise. A nice, AAA minor league franchise would do, he said, if his town were lucky enough, pray be, to win the favor of those baseball people who had a minor league franchise to sell. And what American city other than Alexandria could boast that George Washington went to church there, regularly.
The mayor said he was aiming at something like an International League franchise that would fit nicely into the 7,500 seats of a high school stadium in Alexandria, if the city would put the stadium back in first class condition. Other than that, the mayor indicated, his baseball coup would not cost the taxpayers a dime, and how about that Alexandria sports fans?
But the electrifying thing the mayor said, the thing that got him the instant attention of Bobby Bragan, president of all the minor leagues, was that his group was ready to invest a million dollars for a minor league franchise. A public sale of stock would raise the money.
A million dollars, Bragan's cars didn't merely prick. The mayor's statement left him wide-cared, and Bragan grabbed a telephone to tell the mayor, in effect, "You're on! I like Alexandria's chances of getting a team. I've always had a kind feeling toward your city."
Bragan was aware considering the shape the minor leagues are in, that a million dollar offer could come close to fetching the whole International League, all eight clubs in it.Roy Jackson, who lives in nearby Paoli, Pa., and is president of the International League, was saying yesterday that the latest franchise sale in his league recently brought $80,000, not a million.
Mayor Mann said later that he really didn't mention a million dollars, but one of our reporter's notes stoutly maintains that he did so, no matter what he is saying now. In any event, the figure was exciting enough to grab Bragan like a sudden hot foot. He could have told Mann, but didn't, that even with a $100,000 annual subsidy from major league teams, half of the International League clubs lose money.
Something about the whole affair suggests that buying a baseball franchise, even a minor league franchise, is too important a matter to be left to small-town mayors with overblown ideas of the how much it costs to get into the shaky minor league basketball business.
But Alexandria hasn't been hurt, because, a couple of hours after Bragan said he liked the town's chances of getting a team, he phoned back to say he didn't like them.
Bragan announced he had polled the International League owners and that "the momentum had shifted to the other direction." Asked if Alexandria's prospects of a team appeared dead, he said, "I would think so."
But Jackson, who runs the International League, says he wasn't aware of any vote being taken by his league's owners. "We didn't take any vote," said the man who should know what is going on in his league, and could wonder where Bragan got his strange information.
Bragan's back-down on Alexandria's "good chance" to get a team suggests that he had heard, meanwhile, from on high, from a flabbergasted if not outraged Bowie Kuhn. For more than two years Kuhn has been plotting assiduously to get a big-league team back into Washington, and thinks the day is close, and doesn't want any minor league club in Alexandria lousing up the territory.
It is not difficult to picture commissioner Kuhn telling his secretary, in unaccustomed decibels. "Get me Bobby Bragan's number."
Anyway, Alexandria's excursion into organized baseball, even on a minor league level, seems to have come to an untimely, or timely, end. As a baseball investment counsellor, mayor Mann has probably been saved from doing his group an unwitting disservice.
This leaves active in the field, besides commissioner Kuhn, only Joe Wheele. Wheeler is president and chief executive officer of a corporation known as Washington Pro Baseball, Inc., aimed at bringing a major league team to Washington by public sale of stock.
What Washington Pro Baseball Inc. has been accumulating mostly is ink. Its $5 million sale of public stock has fallen short, it is indicated, by come $4,950,000, according to a recent report. But Mr. Wheeler has assured all that the $30,000 with which public subscribers rallied to his idea is safe in escrow, and drawing interest, which is more than his stock sale plan did.