D.C. Mayor Marion Barry said yesterday he will continue to press for a major-league baseball team for Washington and revealed that new Baltimore Oriole owner Edward Bennett Williams told him he does not intend to build a stadium in the suburbs.
In a broad-based interview dealing with professional and school sports in the area, Barry told The Washington Post that he had tried to persuade Williams to let the Orioles play 13 games here next season.
The club's contract with Baltimore's Memorial Stadium allows it to play 13 home games elsewhere, but Williams ruled out any Washington games in 1980 shortly after buying the franchise for $12 million.
Barry said Williams cited the technicalities involved in getting the players' approval for the plan, increased support by Baltimore fans for the team and a skepticism by Williams that fans here would enthusiastically support a 13-game program.
"I was hoping (last summer) that a Washington group would purchase the Orioles and, in a year or so, we would have the Orioles here," Barry said. "But the turn of events -- the Orioles getting in the World Series, Baltimoreans supporting them and (Williams') commitment to keep them there as long as Baltimore supported them -- has sort of turned it around.
"And that leaves us in the position of trying to get a National League team here. And, at this point, after talking to people knowledgable about the economics of sports and looking at other aspects of it, most people are leery of expansion teams . . . "
The mayor said he would continue to press Williams to play games in Washington and is considering appointing an areawide citizens task force to explore baseball opportunities for Washington.
"I would hope we'd also get a significant number of congressional people involved so that there might be some subtle pressure put on the leagues to make an effort to get (a team) here . . . "I don't know how we're going to do it, but I think we ought to try," Barry said, adding he may attend the annual baseball meetings in Toronto in December.
On Williams' rejecting a 13-game plan for next season, Barry said, "He said if he played 13 games and attendance wasn't up and the enthusiasm wasn't there, it would make it even more difficult for him in the future to think about coming to the District.
He's probably more determined than ever not to do it (play a split schedule) because, as he puts it, it's difficult for a baseball owner to serve two masters, to have one foot here and one foot over there. I expressed my disappointment, but we left it at that. It was his money and his team.
"I would like him to move the team to Washington -- I don't make any bones about it -- to bring the (Orioles) to Washington, rename them and have a championship team.
"He's sympathetic to a team in the District. I suspect that in the back of his mind somewhere he thought maybe the Orioles weren't going to be supported, that it would be a good little way to get them over here. But you can't be an owner of a team and not show full faith and confidence in the city where the team is."
Shortly after he bought the club, Williams, who also is president of the Redskins, told a Baltimore television audience he would like to build a 42,000-seat baseball-only stadium. He has since declined to discuss specifics, such as location or financing.
Williams was out of town last night and unavailable for comment.
Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan has asked Williams to consider building a multipurpose stadium in the Laurel area -- a proposal Barry sees as unnecessary because of the existence of RFK Stadium here.
People in the Maryland suburbs of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, as well as Northern Virginians, feel closer to Washington than to Baltimore or other cities, Barry said.
"So I asked (Williams), I put it right to him . . . 'Ed, what are these rumors about your wanting to build a stadium in the suburbs?' He said he had no intention of doing that.
"The economy and the cost of putting together such a venture is increasingly prohibitive in terms of capital. He said it would cost $35 million to $40 million to build such a stadium.
"He said the economics of having to build a baseball-only stadium made it definitely out, he just couldn't do it. I asked him, 'What about the Redskins, the Orioles and something else?' He said the economics were better, but that he still couldn't do it and won't do it."
Barry, describing himself as a "soccer convert," also said he was optimistic that the Diplomats will remain in Washington.
"I sense a commitment (to stay) if the attendance goes up. I think they'll keep the team here as long as people go out and see the games," said Barry, who led the city's successful efforts to get the Soccer Bowl for RFK next year. Barry appointed himself to the three-member Armory Board, which operates the stadium and adjacent D.C. Armory. "We are looking at ways to greater use the stadium and armory," he said. He mentioned the possibility of attracting Army-Navy football games, more local college football games, tennis, track and sports clubs, among other sports and entertainment events.
Praising the city as a good sports town, Barry also discussed the importance of having sports and recreational models and activities for the youth of the city.
Barry also said he thought the school board should spend more on sports. "When I was on the school board, I always tried to get more money for the athletic budget. Some people say (sports) are not a function of the educational system. But I think we should have strong baseball, football, basketball, track, swimming, and other teams.
"The kids are here and they have natural abilities and interests and they should be allowed to use them."