Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said yesterday he is confident new Baltimore Oriole owner Edward Bennett Williams eventually will build a stadium between Washington and Baltimore as the best solution to accommodate fans in both metropolitan areas.
Kuhn's remarks came in response to questions about whether he considers Washington an "open" city for baseball and whether he planned to continue his long-standing efforts to return the game to the nation's capital.
"Yes, it's an open city as far as the National League is concerned, but not for the American League," Kuhn said in a telephone interview. The Orioles have AL territorial rights over Washington.
"But as far as I'm concerned -- and I think this would be true for the National League -- I would plan to watch the situation in Baltimore, including the efforts Ed Williams is making to develop a new baseball stadium between the two cities, and see how it goes," he continued.
Williams, who is scheduled to take control of the Orioles on Nov. 1, has said he would like to have a new baseball-only stadium seating about 42,000 people, but has not been specific about a location or financing. He has indicated, however, that he believes such a facility could be built by private interests.
Williams has described the idea as "a dream . . . (that's not going to go away until I execute on it." He also has said he plans to meet with Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan about Hogan's proposal for domed stadium off I-95 in Laurel.
Kuhn said he and Williams have not discussed specifics about such a stadium, or a timetable.
"I think he's entitled to some reasonable time to develop that project," Kuhn said. "I think what he's saying is that he's going to work on building that stadium and feels he has a good chance of doing it. It would be a fine solution for both communities . . .
"What you have there is a man who is interested in the whole area and should be given time to see how he handles it . . . . He's very interested in the opportunity to develop this new stadium concept. If it doesn't develop, then we'll see (about a team for Washington) . . . (But) I'm confident he will build it."
Kuhn met with Williams and AL President Lee MacPhail recently to discuss Williams' plans for the Orioles and whether any games would be played in RFK Stadium here next year. Under the Orioles' contract with Memorial Stadium, 13 home games could be played elsewhere, but Williams decided against any D.C. games next season.
"I wouldn't say I recommended (games at RFK). We certainly did discuss it and he told me why he thought he shouldn't. I had no quarrel with his conclusion," Kuhn said, declining to give specifics.
When the sale of the club to Williams was announced on Aug. 2, he said he planned to keep the club in Baltimore as long as the city supported it, but refused to define support.
The Orioles have had unprecedented attendance this year, last month surpassing their previous attendance record of 1.2 million set in 1966 and currently shooting for 1.6 million.
Calling this boom "the beginning of a new ear of baseball enthusiasm in Baltimore" and citing pledges from the business community for ticket sales, Williams said the Orioles would play all 81 home games in Baltimore next year.