Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins' owner, wants to bring a major league baseball team to Washington. A National League team would be best. An American League team would be all right, though that could get geographically sticky with the Orioles (of Redskin partner Edward Bennett Williams). In any case, Cooke wants baseball back in the Nation's Capital.
"No, no," Cooke said. "I won't go to baseball people, hat in hand, and say I 'want' a major league franchise."
Then, loudly: "I am going to get one."
Cooke said he has made no inquiries about buying existing teams and has not asked if baseball intends to expand.
"As George and Ira Gershwin wrote in their beautiful song, I am 'Bidin' My Time,' " Cooke said. "It's almost an instinctive thing with me. When the time is right, I will know it. Something will happen and I'll know it's the time to move. And I will move."
The Washington Senators reborn?
"It is as inevitable as tomorrow," Cooke said, adding with a smile, "though not so imminent."
A year from now? Two years?
"When the time is right, I will be in there faster than a hummingbird being chased by a buzzard."
Cooke has been thinking about this.
"I have the uniforms in mind already. Pin stripes. Not as thin a pin stripe as the Yankees. Theirs is too thin. On their road uniforms, the Yankees use plain gray. We'll have pin stripes on the road uniforms, too."
Cooke, 70, a native of Canada, grew up playing hockey and baseball. From 1951 to 1964, he owned the Toronto Maple Leafs of the AAA International League. He tried to buy the White Sox and Tigers. He was Branch Rickey's vice president in the Continental League, a proposed third major league that died when the National League lured away two teams with expansion franchises (thus the Mets and Astros).
Even 20 years out of baseball, Cooke maintains ties with NL President Charles Feeney, AL President Lee MacPhail and several owners, including the Dodgers' Peter O'Malley and Angels' Gene Autry.
Any reckoning of Cooke's clout in ending baseball's 12-year silence in the Nation's Capital--where the game's precious anti-trust exemption was created and is sustained--also must include his political friends. President Reagan's ally in the Senate, Nevada's Paul Laxalt, is often Cooke's guest at Redskin games.
"Next to football and the Redskins, baseball is my favorite sport," said Cooke, who has owned major league franchises in football, basketball, hockey and soccer. "You may think my interest in baseball is evidence that I believe we have done the ultimate with the Redskins in winning the Super Bowl.
"Not for one minute. We have won a Super Bowl, but I won't say I'm satisfied until we win three straight. Then four, then five. With the coaching staff and young players we have, there is a possibility of doing that very thing."
With his son John taking over the day-to-day duties at Redskin Park, Cooke recently has established a racing stable ("I want to win the Kentucky Derby") and increased his real estate holdings with a $52 million hotel-office complex in Phoenix.
The D.C. Armory Board has proposed leasing RFK Stadium to Cooke as the year-around operator, a move that Cooke has resisted because of a proposed 30-year lease. Sources say Cooke, given a short lease, would build luxury boxes making RFK more financially attractive for baseball and football. The city likely would agree to a shorter deal, a source said, but that would not be discussed until Cooke moves for a baseball team.
Cooke entered baseball in 1951 when, newly wealthy with radio and publishing money, he bought the Maple Leafs.
He ran the team himself, winning three IL championships, until emigrating to the U.S. in 1960. In '64 he gave the team to the city of Toronto.
While in Toronto, Cooke tried to buy the White Sox from Bill Veeck.
"We couldn't work a deal," he said.
For the Tigers Cooke offered $5.8 million, which he said was the highest bid.
"They took a lower bid for reasons mysterious," Cooke said.
Twice rebuffed, Cooke joined forces with the baseball legend Branch Rickey in the early '60s intending to form a third big league with Cooke owning a Toronto franchise.
"Established baseball got worried because our franchises were held by men who not only were very, very rich and so had the ability, they also had the rare willingness to pay the losses," Cooke said.
"The Continental League could have been a reality, but baseball held out the olive branch of expansion to New York and Houston. The league owners surrendered. Mr. Rickey was sadly opposed, but he said, 'I'll do whatever you decide. I have placed myself squarely in front of the consequences, and they are murky. I have entered into a covenant, a compact, with you gentlemen, and it is not I who have broken it.'
"There were tears in that room that day."
Cooke hasn't been in baseball since.
"My first love is the Redskins, because we did the unimaginable: we changed coaches, we changed directions and we won the Super Bowl in 25 months. But I am a dichotomous man--Mr. Rickey always said to avoid those Latin words--I am a two-sided man, with baseball another passion of mine.
"I watch kids play on the sandlots. Baseball is a chess game in motion, it is a pastoral game with time to imagine a thousand possibilities. I love baseball, truly. Whatever ballet has, it doesn't have anything to match the grace of a double play."