THERE HAS BEEN a disagreement of sorts about the full intentions of Edward Bennett Williams, the well-known Washington barrister who went afield to buy the Baltimore Orioles for $12 million. The Washington Post reported that Williams leaned toward playing some Oriole games in Washington's RFK Stadium next season, and would move the franchise here by 1981. "The nadir of irresponsible journalism, totally and absolutely without foundation," Williams protested.
If The Washington Post is guilty of grave or malicious error, the proof is not too far distant. Sophocies said it best: "Truth will catch up with guilt; justice is never out of breath." Meanwhile, it serves Williams well to tell Baltimore it does have a lame-duck ball club. Anything less would be viewed in the marketplace as bad business.
It is fair to point out that nobody ever quoted Williams as planning or announcing any move to Washington on either a restricted or full basis.He is denying what certain other persons, accepted by The Post, as strong sources, have stated, which is his privilege.
"I said I would keep the team in Baltimore as long as the city supports it...I meant what I said." And Williams added at his courtroom best, "I didn't talk from a prepared script...I don't think it unreasonable to ask people to believe what you say."
It is fascinating that Williams may have conincidentally revealed why he alone was able to buy the team from Jerold Hoffberger after so many other bidders before him were shut off. In speaking of his continuing talks with Oriole officials, Williams said, "One thing I am most anxious to get is an agreement that Jerry Hoffberger will remain as team president."
Aha, was that it? Hoffberger, at the urging of his family, finally would sell the team, but at the same time he would retain a power base in baseball and in the city as president of the Orioles. No sidelining of him.His phone would not stop ringing. It could explain why Williams could make the deal that frustrated others. One more evidence of the persuasiveness of Williams, who, as one friend often puts it, "can charm an apple out of a tree."
Williams' profession as a distinguished courtroom attorney often on the unpopular side has been an obstacle course. His next hurdle, that of squaring with NFL Commissioner Pete Orzelle his ownership of a major league baseball team with his presidency of a major league football team (the Redskins) should be of no great challenge.
There is a traditional NFL policy against such a relationship but Rozelle has shown no zest for enforcing it. If he suddenly gets agressive about it, Williams probably would play his next card: a discard of the Redskins, Jack Kent Cooke, and stand taller as the supremely proud and sole owner of an American League baseball team that plays 162 games a year, not football's mere 16.
Despite his identification with football, baseball has been Williams' first love. He was an avid bidder for the Washington Senators' expansion franchise in 1961. Football, especially after a defeat, left the competitive Williams restive and impatient. He abhorred waiting a week to get even with somebody. In baseball he could win a game tomorrow or preferably win a pair in a doubleheader.
Williams' shift from football to baseball would be expedited by the brand new proximity of the Cooke. As long as Cooke was living far from the scene in Los Angeles or Las Vegas, minority Redskin owner Williams was complete boss of a team here. It was no problem.But with Cooke taking up residency in nearby Upperville, Va., and in view of Cooke's boss-everything tendencies, Williams is not as comfortable as Redskin president. Cooke is too close, despite his protestations of the past that "Ed runs the team."
Realistically, too, it is reasonable to believe that Williams did not pay $12 million for the Oriorles with the intent of keeping them in Baltimore, 40 hard miles away, a considerable bit of distance if he wanted to take his friends with him as he usually does when he presides over any kind of major-league team.
Williams in the past has been known to proclaim Washington as "a great baseball town," and was eager to buy a club to prove it. He also knows the difference between greeting the president of the United States in his box at the inaugural game and shaking hands with the mayor of Baltimore.
Williams' statement that he will not move the Orioles as long as they are "supported" in Baltimore still leaves him to make the final determination of what is sufficient support. He has not yet spelled out any numbers. On Tuesday Baltimore passed the million mark in home attendance, a record figure at this stage of the season. But this is a year when the Orioles have produced a special euphoria with frequent last-inning heroics and are threatening to win the pennant.
The fact is, Baltimore is not a good baseball town, according to history and, as Casey Stengel would say, you can look it up.
Baltimore's record attendance for any season is 1,203,366 posted in 1966. Twelve other clubs in the 14 American League have better all-time records for season attendance than the Orioles, which would suggest that for a new club owner, especially one with Williams' social and business ties, Baltimore is not exactly baseball heaven. All of this is predicated on what Williams probably would say, in court, is the rule of reason. CAPTION: Picture, Jerold C. Hoffberger, foreground, embraces Baltimore Mayor William Donald Shaefer as Edward Bennett Williams watches. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post; Illustration, no caption, By William Coulter for The Washington Post