Of all the world's cities, you'd think the one least in need of a lesson on How to Lobby would be Washington.

This is the place you come to woo the powerful, to lay plans for years to get one big kill.

With one exception.


For 13 years, baseball has been the one thing Washington really wanted but had to beg somebody else to give it.

Washington, accustomed to being courted, proved an incompetent suitor.

It was beneath the city's dignity to form politicians, businessmen and civic boosters into a D.C. Commission on Baseball and run it on a shoestring budget. It was beneath the mayor to make a priority out of such a difficult and maybe embarrassing long-range project.

It wasn't Washington's style to put out brochures trumpeting the city's demographic charms. Or run quaint money-making Bring Back Baseball luncheons. Or scrounge up endorsements from Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill.

More important, Washington couldn't find time to figure out how city officials could offer a competitively generous stadium lease to a new owner.

Or hire a new stadium general manager in hopes he could oversee a $15 million renovation. Or collect nearly 6,000 pledge cards from the public with fans promising to buy about 1.5 million tickets in a new team's first year.

Finally, Washington wasn't overrun with potential buyers who would swallow pride, fly down to Texas, shake hands with a bunch of baseball owners and, in effect, say, "Gee, could I please join your keen fraternity?"

None of this was Washington's Way. Until now.

Now, Washington has its commission, its brochures and its leg-long list of Why Washington facts: No. 7 in the United States in metropolitan-area population, No. 8 TV market, 15.5 million tourists who spend $1 billion a year.

Now, Washington has its committed mayor and its pledges for more than 5,000 season tickets. It has its new general manager for RFK Stadium (Jim Dalrymple), who is armed with data on how much it will cost ("$7 million") and how long it will take ("ready by '86") to make RFK a fit home for baseball again.

Washington has a glamor potential buyer: Jack Kent Cooke, who owns the Redskins. Also, Mayor Marion Barry and other city officials are concocting a possible master lease deal to make Cooke the sole tenant of RFK for 20 years in return for assurances that Cooke would pay $500,000 annual rent and spend $15 million on stadium renovations.

For the first time since 1971, when Bob Short took the American League Senators to Texas, Washington is trying to do the whole range of big and little tasks required to get an expansion team in the '80s.

Although even Cooke says, "The next baseball expansion probably won't come for three or four years," Washington finally has loaded up its baseball bandwagon.

And it's heading to Texas.

When baseball owners meet this week in Houston, a dozen-man Washington contingent will be there on a Cooke's tour. Led by most of the commission, plus the 72-year-old Cooke, the local lobbyists will be haunting the plush suites and cocktail reception rooms of the winter meetings, trying to sell owners on baseball in RFK Stadium.

Washington might have been slow on the uptake, seeing Seattle and Toronto beat it to expansion teams in 1977 and, in recent years, watching such burgs as St. Petersburg, Fla., and Vancouver get the inside track for future clubs. But, now, Washington has finally joined the get-a-team race and decided to play by the prevailing rules.

"When we started, we were so far behind we weren't even in the ball game," said Frank Smith, chairman of the 6-month-old D.C. Commission on Baseball. "Now, we've gone from the bottom of the pack to near the top.

"I think there's always been a lot of latent support for Washington if we showed interest. Jack Kent Cooke has the money and the staying power. We're in it for the long haul. We won't be ignored any more."

Compared to the efforts of such a city as Denver, which has been working for a team for 16 years and now seems to have the next National League franchise locked up, the fledgling actions of the Washington group seem weak and late.

"I believe you'd have to say that the Washington group is just a blip on our radar screen at this point," says Bob Sparks, involved in setting up the exhibitions and receptions at baseball's meetings.

"They don't have a presentation (to the owners) on the agenda. They don't have a booth or exhibit set up like five or six other cities do," Sparks said. "(By contrast) Denver has a three-day reception. The people from Denver, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Buffalo, Vancouver and Indianapolis are familiar faces.

"One guy (consulant Morris Siegel) is going to represent D.C. (officially) at the meetings . . . Couldn't tell you who he is."

That's symbolic of Washington's problem. After 13 years in a black hole, Washington isn't part of baseball's insular, backslapping world anymore. It's commonplace, for instance, to meet "veteran" major league players who have no idea what the name of Washington's team used to be. What's a Nat?

On the other side of the coin, compared to previous efforts by the District, the commission's master plan looks like Hall of Fame stuff.

"The commission's work has been admirable," said Cooke. "I'm flabbergasted that they've accomplished so much so quickly."

"I'm intending to go to Houston and talk to at least 10 or 12 of the owners. Renew old friendships," continued Cooke, who doesn't have as many old friends in the front lines of baseball (such as the late Walter O'Malley, retired Buzzie Bavasi and retiring Gabe Paul) as he did 30 years ago when he owned AAA franchises.

"Damn right we're going to get a team for Washington. It won't be done at these meetings, but we're laying the groundwork. From now on, we won't be tacking too much. It will be a straight sail."

At this juncture, there is almost no difference in point of view between Cooke and the commission, which, in effect, represents his interests.

"He's the only (owner) candidate we have who's gone public," said consultant Siegel, a Washington radio personality who was a columnist for the late Washington Star.

"We've told him, 'We're here to do it for you. What do you want us to do?' " Basically, he's said, 'Missionary work.' Change the way people perceive Washington as a baseball town . . . Our job is to buttonhole people. Let them know, 'Hey, we're here.'

"This commission is such a good sign because it's the first time the D.C. government has even acknowledged the loss of the team."

Some commission members are more cautious about equating their task with Cooke's goals.

"Mr. Cooke is very viable as an owner, but I just don't think he's the only one possible," said commission member Robert Pincus, president of the D.C. National Bank. "This whole groundswell of interest in getting baseball back might spark interest from some other person or group. Competition is usually healthy in anything . . .

"This commission is working hard. We will entertain anyone (as a possible owner) without endorsing anyone. Our job is to promote Washington.

"We're not operating on a false sense of optimism. Baseball is a closed club. We have to try to open it up. Denver has done such a phenomenal job for No. 1. They're at the top when the NL decides to expand, but I think we follow them."

For an insider's view on expansion and Washington's place in the picture, perhaps no better observer can be found than Peter Bavasi, named chief operating officer of the Cleveland Indians Thursday.

Bavasi was president of the Toronto Blue Jays team that beat out Washington in the last round of expansion in 1977. He was recently head of the St. Petersburg group that wants to beat Washington to the punch again this time. His father Buzzie was, until recently, one of six members of baseball's long-range planning (i.e., expansion) committee. He has known Cooke since he was a child and even has coached the D.C. commission on how to learn the ropes in the expansion game.

"Some would say we're quite a few years away from expansion," Bavasi said lately. "I don't sense any urgency. I think (Commissioner Peter) Ueberroth's phrase is 'inevitable but not imminent.'

"The NL is finally resigned to its inevitability. That's good news. The overview is to add six teams, four in the NL, in the next 10 years or so. Now it's 'when' and 'where' and how it might actually happen. That has not been thought through. Basically, I don't think anything's been done since last winter at Nashville.

"I just get a sense the owners are preoccupied with player relations, and before that, it was naming a commissioner, and they have not given a lot of thought to expansion.

"Traditionally, baseball has tended to expand when it had to, not when it should have. This time, I think there'll be more planning on every ramification down to cable TV, scouting, minor league teams."

Bavasi emphasizes that Washington's position may be stronger than even the city itself realizes. "Baseball's ultimate concerns are not with cocktail parties and brochures," he said. "It breaks down to three areas: the market, the owner and the stadium.

"The other owners want to know about population density, growth potential, broadcast dynamics and proximity to existing franchises. Clubs are so dependent on their local TV markets that there's a real concern about geography, much more than in the NFL, where broad-based revenue sharing makes it less an issue."

That last issue -- geography -- may be Washington's toughest sticking point. It would require only four negative AL votes to block an NL team in Washington.

"Perhaps no one knows exactly how Edward Bennett Williams (Baltimore Orioles owner) feels," said Bavasi. "He's a very persuasive man in baseball right now."

Williams' stated position, which the commission quotes in its brochure: "I've always supported the notion of baseball in Washington. I don't have any objection to it."

According to sources, Cooke is willing to take that statement at face value for the time being, but loses sleep over the thought of Williams deciding to try to block him.

Cooke's position is that an AL team in Baltimore and an NL club in Washington would increase overall interest and help both franchises. This isn't what baseball history says and, presumably, both Cooke and Williams know it well.

Williams was not available to comment on the subject.

Cooke and the commission are moving forward on the assumption that a blockade by Williams will never happen or could be avoided. A more immediate and pressing problem is RFK Stadium, which, at present, is useless for baseball.

Dalrymple arrived three months ago specifically because he believed that "baseball is coming back to Washington and it would be exciting to be part of it."

He estimates it would cost $7 million to install the Atlanta-style sliding stands that would make it possible to play a Redskins game in RFK one day and a baseball game the next. At present, it would take 30 days to convert the park from football to baseball, then back to football.

As for the sky boxes that Cooke has always said he would install if he were sole tenant, Dalrymple guesses "$3 to $5 million," while his total estimate for all the plans Cooke has on the drawing board would be "$15 million, easy."

Of course, Cooke would never pour so much of his money into the park if he didn't have what he calls a "master lease" that would make him the complete boss of RFK for 20 to 25 years.

At present, RFK Stadium is deeded to the Interior Department. However, a bill passed the House (but not the Senate) last year that would deed RFK to the District. "Home rule is home rule," says Smith, a city councilman. "D.C. should own the stadium."

The bill will be reborn in January. If the measure passes, it is expected that the three-member Armory Board -- composed of Barry, Maj. Gen. Calvin Franklin (head of the D.C. National Guard) and civilian member (and Barry appointee) Stuart Long -- would enter into serious talks with Cooke about developing a master lease.

"The stadium is a very important element in this," Smith said. "The commission needs to say, 'This is what we think a lease should be. This is what repairs will cost.'

"We've been assured the city will go whatever distance it must to offer a fair and reasonable deal on the stadium. This must be a partnership between the city and an investor. The Armory Board has the final say."

According to sources, Cooke might pay the District an annual rent in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. (The Armory Board, helped by a $208,000 default by the Washington Federals, had unusually high profits of $1.1 million from RFK in the past fiscal year.)

There is a theoretical hitch in a master lease that worries at least one commission member. "What if the District basically gives the stadium to Cooke, but, for whatever reason, he can't get a team?" says the member. "What if some other Washington group could get a team someday? Would that lease to Cooke be a problem and come back to haunt us?"

On the other hand, who but Cooke has the spare change for a $30 million team, plus all those RFK expenses?

But such questions are for the future. At present, most commission members are planning to pay their own way to Houston and are practicing their lobby speeches.

Dalrymple's pet point is that "the bad reputation RFK has (regarding crime in the area) is so damn ridiculous. We're in a better situation than a majority of stadiums in baseball. All I say is, 'Come see us.' It's not a fair shot we're taking."

Smith wants to emphasize that, in light of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Raiders-vs.-NFL case, baseball ought to be a bit nervous about maintaining its antitrust exemption. "Washington would be a ready lobby for all the issues facing the game. The game needs to build congressional support."

It's taken 13 long, unlucky years to learn the lesson, but Washington has finally decided it is time to get down in the mud with the Tampas and Vancouvers and drum up a ball club.

Wanna hear about that great new subway system in Washington?

Come to Houston this week and get an earful.