After seven years, two months and 15 days, Washingtonians need a return to basics. Therefore, this is a baseball: [ILLUSTRATION]
Going too fast? Good. I now offer a theory counter to popular wisdom, thatif baseball is ever to return to Washington on the major-league level it first must look like this: [ILLUSTRATION]
The split baseball is theOrioles, with larger section belonging to Baltimore and the smaller section to Washington. Undignified as it might seem, some sort of shared affection with the Orioles is useful, perhaps necessary, whether the teamis sold or remains controlled by Jerold Hoffberger.
Anyone who buys the Orioles-and former secretary of the Treasury William Simon is this month's leading candidate - must look toward Washington to maximize profits.
History insists that Baltimore supports baseball as well as it can, but not well enough for the team to make money or compete for the high-priced free agents probably necessary to overtake the Yankees and Red Sox.
The orioles are able to play 11 games outside Memorial Stadium this season-and a new owner would be foolish not to move them to RFK Stadium. Also, their lease expire June 30, which means Hoffberger could negotiate additional games beyond Baltimore.
And Washington would be foolish not to accept them.
This runs smack into the don't-give-us-crumbs advocates, who have argued against piecemeal baseball here since the Short Heist in 1971. Their notion holds that if baseball offers Washington a few games, it never will offer a permanent team.
That is possible. More than seven years without baseball suggests it also could be wrong. At the mement, the National League would expand to Outer Mongolia before Washington.
And Hoffberger will veto any American League move here.
Justified or not, Washington must prove itself again to baseball. It must take a few crumbs-and gobble them ravenously - before anyone offers cake. Will Washington support baseball? In truth, nobody knows. And by the end of 1980 Hoffberger or somebody had better find out.
In the final Bob Short season, the Senators finished 38 1/2 games behind the first-place Orioles but generated more income. Only next season will the Orioles charge more for their games than Short did in 1971.
Would Washington and Baltimore support the same team?
Or at least not for long. Any sort of split schedule would be seen as Parkway War, with the winner eventually either controlling the Orioles or...Well, the obvious conclusion is not necessarily right, but that comes later.
Lately, evidence points to two cities being able to support one team. Baseball has boomed during free agency, suggesting more customers, than anyone imagined, regard it as entertainment instead of religion.
But Washington fans and Baltimore fans are not likely to agree on much beyond their dislike for one another. The character Baseball Bill is Exhibit A.
Bill (Holdforth) is Washington's most noticed, if not dedicated, baseball fan. He said he would prefer an expansion franchise to any split season with the Orioles-and then he began to chuckle.
"The Twins had this rookie right-handed relief pitcher (in 1970) named Steve Barber," he said, "and when the (Oriole) public-address announcer said his name there was a standing ovation. Those (censored) fans thought he was the same Steve Barber who once pitched for Baltimore.
"That Steve Barber was left-handed, of course. So what did they think, that their Barber had retired and was making a comeback as a righ-hader? It is not my lifelong dream to be paired up with Baltimore on anything."
Although split schedules have worked (with the NFL Packers), most regional franchises have failed. And building a stadium between Washington and Baltimore would be folly, creating two concrete white elephants instead of one.
A decade ago, the White Sox treid to expand their base by playing 11 games in Milwaukee. Like what the Orioless would be here, the Sox were market-testing and lost it to Atlanta. The test failed.
"The first year (former owner Arthur) Allyn tried it," owner Bill Veeck said, "they drew some big crowds in Milwaukee, but alienated the Chicago fans. And by the next year, the Milwaukee fans sensed they were just being used, and also got turned off."
But a strange thing happened-and Washington should keep it in mind. The nex year, 1970, Milwaukee was back in major-league baseball. CAPTION: Illustration 1, 2, no caption