Page 4 of the Sunday sports section was filled with little pictures of men who won baseball teams. They were, most of them, smiling portraits, and why not? Those men have teams. Washington doesn't. Anyway, next to the smiling moguls' mugs were thousands of words from them explaining why Washington doesn't have baseball.
I expected an esoteric explanation. For seven years the commissioner of baseball, Bowie Kuhn, has promised to get a team back in Washington. I expected from the mighty moguls an explanation based on market surveys and demographics. In short, I expected an answer I couldn't understand.
But what the owners said is that Washington is out in the big-league cold simply because no one has the big bucks to warm thigns up.
That explanation is no longer operative.
This is to introduce David Abraham (Sonny) Werblin.
He is president of Madison Square Garden Corporation, new owner of the Washington Diplomats soccer team.
How inadequate that introduction, rather like introducing Michelagelo as a guy who paints ceilings.
Sony Werblin makes stars.
Now 68 years old, Werblin once was president, of the Music Corporation of America. He managed the careers of Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen. When Johnny Carson signed his latest contract with NBC, Werblin arranged the multimillion dollar deal.
As owner and president of the New York Jets, he made the old American Football Leagues credible by signing a quarterback named Joe Namath for the unheard of (in 1965) total of $427,000 in bonus and salary.
His most impressive feat, accomplished against the longest odds and fiercest competition, came in the early 1970s. As the boss of The Meadowlands, he made a sports complex in the swamps of New Jersey a success so grand that a waning rival, Madison Square Garden, hired him away.
First Werblin convinced the New York Giants football team to abandon Yankee Stadium in favor of The Meadowlands' 76,000-seat stadium. (He made eyes at the Yankee themselves, but then - Mayor John Lindsay, in near panic, approved a $100 million renovation of Yankee Stadium, at taxpayer cost, to keep the Yankees there.)
Werbin built a race track next door to the stadium and both thoroughbred and harnes racing made inroads into New York's business. With the stunning success of the Cosmos' soccer team. The Meadowlands became a vibrant example of the Werblin way. He thinks' large thoughts.
"You can't do things cheaply," Werbilin said after dropping all that money on the young Namath. " . . . A million-dollar set is worthless if you put a $2,000 actor in the main role."
Six years after taking The Meadowlands' job, Werblin suddenly quit to go to work for Madison Square Garden. The move wasn't unusual, he insisted. "My life has been selling tickets," he said.
And now he'll be selling tickets in Washington.
Soccer buffs here should be pleased, for Werblin's past performances suggest a Midas touch. That touch does not come without cost, of course, and if Steve Danzansky, the previous boss and still president of the Dips, had limited financial resources, Sonny Werblin's pockets run very deep.
That's because Madison Square Garden is a subsidiary of the giant conglomerate Gulf and Western Inc. Another subsidiary is the Paramount motion picture studio, which, to give you an idea of what a "giant conglomerate" is, has produced more than $300 million in gross sales so far this year (thanks in part to Saturday Night Fever," "Grease." "Foul Play" and Heaven Can Wait."
Gulf and Western is gulping in profits so large, and acquiring subsidiaries so quickly, that is has been called "Gulf and Devour."
But, back at the beginning, we were talking about baseball in Washington and how the mighty moguls say it is only a matter of money.
And here comes Sonney Werblin, with Gulf and Western's money available.
While the Post reported two days ago that Gulf and Western is "among the leading contenders" to buy the Baltimore Orioles, Werblin yesterday denied it.
Werblin was quick to add that he "could be interested . . . Our business is the acquisition and operation of sports franchises."
In short, Werblin said, if anyone is interested in selling a baseball team, they should look him up.
"I'm not going to be sending 20 telegrams to 20 owners, saying I want to buy their teams," Werblin said. "They know where I am."
What Washington needs now is not 20 telegrams from Werblin.
It needs one telephone call to him.
That call should be made by Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner in charge of promising baseball to Washington. During the conversation, Kuhn should say he personally will find a seller and present the man at the front door of Madison Square Garden.