Edward Bennett Williams has taken the Fifth Amendment when asked to define the "proper support" he wants as a condition for leaving the Orioles in Baltimore. In Minneapolis, Calvin Griffith owner of the Twins is less coy. He demands 1.4 million customers or he'll take the Twins-once-Senators to another town.
Griffith last week signed a 30-year lease to play in a new domed stadium that would be built for the Twins and Vikings. As part of that lease, Griffith, owner of the Twins, is less coy. He demands to terminate the deal if attendance is below 1.4 million or the American League average, whichever is less. The league average last season was about 1.6 million.
The escape clause is weighed in Griffith's favor. In 18 years in Minneapolis, the Twins have averaged 1.1 million customers - and now Griffith is demanding a 30 percent increase. The 1.4 million he wants has been reached only four times in the Twins' history.
While Baltimoreans have pleaded with Williams to give them an exact number he wants in attendance - losing the team would hurt, losing it to Washington would be pain beyond sufferance, as we shall see in a minute - history suggests that the Orioles' customers would have a hard time matching as modest a goal as Griffith's 1.4 million.
Never have the Orioles drawn 1.4 million. After 25 full seasons, the Baltimore attendance record is 1.2 million. That record will be broken easily this magnificent season with attendance reaching nearly 1.8 million.
That sounds impressive. In fact, it will be maybe seventh or eighth best in a 14-team league, perhaps fifth best in the Orioles' own seven-team division. That 1.8 million paid to see baseball's best team will be about the average attendance in the league, a mediocre ratio of customers-to-performance that suggests the Griffith agreement's 1.4 million customers might not show up in Baltimore for, say, a third-place team.
"O most lame and impotent conclusion!" Desdemona cried to Iago, which is about what Nery (Gator) Baldwin, 59, said to a columnist-villain at the ballpark last week.
"Baltimroe is going to turn out 2 million fans a year from now on," said Baldwin, a retired Baltimore police sergeant who held aloft a big placard reading, "Keep the O's, Move Chesapeake Bay."
"Two million fans," he said. "Edward Bennett Williams can't move us if we do that. Give us 50-cent beer and 50-cent parking, we'll get 2 million people out here no matter if the team is in first place or what."
Besides, Baldwin said, he knows Washington would never support a baseball team. As proof, he invoked the name of one of Baltimore's favorite sons.
"Babe Ruth never liked Washington, D.C.," Baldwin said. "Henry Mencken worte that; you can look it up."
The columnist-villain, on returning to his office, was too busy dodging the mail to look up anything. He had written of the possibility Williams would move the Orioles to Washington. He devised a statistic that he called average-attendance-per-victory showing that the woebegone Washington Senators of 1969-70-71 drew more customers per victory than the three-time league-champion Orioles of those years.
Not everyone was staggered by the brilliance of that statistic. "By the way," wrote reader Edward J. Krieg of Dale City, Va., "where were you in '71? Attending Liars Schools of Journalism?"
"I was thoroughly disgusted," said Robert E. Creager of Baltimore, who went on, "For some reason, the good people of Washington think they can support a baseball team better than Baltimore."
(To quibble: the columnist-villain's conclusion, lame and impotent as it might be, was that Washington was no worse a baseball town than Baltimore.)
"None of the facts supports that opinion, yet you have completely failed to report this. Only once in their history did the Senators ever draw over the "miserable million" you mention, despite the many great teams they had," Creager continued.
"Never did the Senators outdraw the Orioles in any given year. Five times in the 1960s, the Senators drew less than 600,000 fans. Well, the Senators were an inferior team compared with the Orioles then; but in the 1950s, when the Orioles had all losing seasons, they never drew less than 800,000 and twice drew over 1 million while the Senators managed to draw less than 500,000 four times.
"Yet Washington managed to do this with a metropolitan area 50 percent larger than Baltimore's.
"...I can't believe that reasonable people would support the theft of a successful major league franchise to support the inflated egos of Washingtonians....Wouldn't it be ironic if a team as frugal, and tremendously successful, as the Orioles, came to a city where fat bureaucracies waste billions of dollars?"
Mary H. Jacox of Baltimore wrote: "D.C. is more a transient town than Baltimore and people won't come to games like we do. The politicians want a team but they won't support it. It would be sad to see the demise of the Orioles' terrific organization by a move to D.C. However, Baltimore will be able to say, "We told you so," when the team becomes another Oakland."
To use characterizations seen in the public prints and in this week's loving mail, the columnist-villain can be described as a smug, undignified, unprofessional jackal-rapist resident of Heroin Heights. And you thought sports fans were out there for fun.
Fact is, it would be wonderful, a joyous moment for even a jackal of the keyboard, if the good people of Baltimore rose up a million strong to give their Orioles the love they've so long deserved, just as it would have been wonderful if someone in Baltimore had cared enough about the long-for-sale Orioles to buy them before a Washingtonian put up his $12 million and talked about "proper support." CAPTION: Picture, Washington's Gary Darrell and Sakib Viteskic try to corral wet ball as teammate Tommy O'Hara arrives to held. By Richard Darcey, The Washington Post