These fingers once typed a sentence suggesting Edward Bennett Williams bought the Baltimore Orioles in order to move them to Washington. The evidence of time suggests otherwise. It is three years later and Williams has pledged his troth, along with his bank account, to the city that gave the world Edgar Allan Poe, Babe Ruth and Wild Bill Hagy. Shame, shame, dear fingers, for time suggests EBW had no team-napping up his sleeve.
He'd like, instead, to keep the Orioles in Baltimore and just move the city of Washington over there.
"The Baltimore radio-TV market is the 19th-largest in the country," Williams said yesterday. "But if you include Washington, it's fourth."
And that, someone suggested, would make an attractive market for the cable and pay television packages that soon will enrich all professional sports.
"Attractive, yes," Williams said.
Such conversation came up because it seems clear that Washington is dead as a major league baseball city.
It is clear that if we are to give our hearts to baseball, we better get the family car tuned up and learn how to get to 33rd Street in Baltimore.
It has been 11 silent springs at RFK Stadium, and come next spring the sounds from that once-hallowed turf will be the snarls of football warriors called the Federals. Gone forever (say it ain't so, somebody) is the crack of ash against horsehide (such a lovely cliche).
Trolling the Memorial Stadium parking lot on this past marvelous Sunday at Baltimore's old ballyard, a man held a cardboard sign that read, "Please Help, I Need 1 Ticket."
Jerry Seidman, a high school football coach from Columbia, Md., said he'd been in the lot for three hours without finding a ticket he could afford. People wanted as much as $100.
"It's the hardest ticket ever," said Seidman, who said he bought his way in to every Oriole playoff and World Series game since 1966.
Why go through such aggravation?
"People have finally realized there isn't going to be any baseball in Washington. So we come to Baltimore."
Chocolate chip cookies are nice, and Ann-Margret is wonderful, but nothing is much more fun than a baseball game with a championship at stake. The 50,000 in Memorial Stadium for the 162nd game of the year didn't like the way it turned out. They loved being there, anyway.
"You can see the game better on TV," said Tom Clark, an architect from Baltimore. "But we came Saturday and had so much fun we decided to come again. Being here transcends everything else."
Being in the ballpark.
Sad to say, no one has been in RFK for a real ball game since Richard Nixon was a first-term president. Just this summer, so great is our deprivation, nearly 30,000 lovelorn waited out a daylong thunderstorm to see an Old-Timers game at RFK. We cheered like mad when a 75-year-old geezer hit a home run. Sigh.
Bowie Kuhn once hung numbers on the Griffith Stadium scoreboard. As commissioner of baseball, he promised to bring baseball back. The size of his failure was demonstrated two summers ago when he cast his eyes across the city that gave the world E. Howard Hunt, Frank Howard and Howard Baker. The commissioner's view: there is no Washington "problem" in baseball.
Baltimore is the answer, Kuhn said. The Orioles serve the entire region, he said. He said, in effect, they are not the Baltimore Orioles; they are the Greater Baltimore-Havre de Grace-Washington-Occoquan Orioles. The region should share the club, Kuhn said.
So we in the nation's capital have come to this: we are baseball's stepchildren and we ought to be happy anybody wants us, even if they make us drive two hours home after a ball game ending at midnight.
Williams would treat us more kindly. There has been talk of a new stadium in Baltimore, down by the Inner Harbor and more easily accessible to I-95 traffic. Such building is prohibitively expensive now, though, and so the best we can hope for is that the Orioles will reach out and touch us often.
Already they have a ticket office here. Leonard Klompus, whose Metrosports network owns the Orioles' radio rights, said he wants Washington radio to promote the Orioles better. It is time, he said, to face it: baseball is dead in Washington, long may it live in Baltimore.
"Our radio contracts have always been so tentative," Klompus said. "They always had a clause saying, 'If we get a team in Washington, we can get out of this contract with the Orioles.' I want to have a more positive contract that treats the Orioles as a Washington-Baltimore team."
Williams, the owner, said Orioles' research showed that 15 percent of his customers comes from the Washington-Northern Virginia area. A private firm's survey showed 22 percent "from Laurel south." That means about 300,000 of the Orioles' 1.6 million customers this season came from nearer Capitol Hill than Johns Hopkins.
That's 300,000 people who want baseball so much they will drive through the labyrinthine streets of a strange city (albeit streets well marked now with directional arrows to Memorial Stadium). That's 300,000 people who are going to somebody else's ballyard.
Nobody in Washington is making any let's-get-baseball noise worth reporting. The RFK people keep in touch with baseball's sufferers. Attendance in San Francisco was 1.2 million this year, second-worst in the National League. Maybe the Giants would move. Or maybe, if Washington is so bold as to make eyes at the Giants, the city of San Francisco will build a $60 million domed stadium already requested.
No, let's forget the Giants and forget National League expansion and forget it all. Baltimore will share its Orioles with us a little bit, if we behave ourselves, and a little bit of the magic at 33rd Street is better than the nothing we've had for a decade.
And someday, yes it will, there will grow up a domed stadium alongside I-95 halfway between these friendly cities. It will be an 80,000-seat stadium for the Orioles, the Redskins, the Colts and whatever soccer team needs an air-conditioned home for the summer. Watch the papers for further details.