Peter Ueberroth, the baseball commissioner, has stipulated the conditions under which he would encourage an expansion franchise for Washington and other cities. And under the stated terms of his friendship to the cause, the sport needs no enemies.
The new commissioner's hard-line demands before a city, he says, can merit consideration:
1) Visible support is necessary (such as selling 20,000 season tickets a year for five years).
2) Political support in the community (such as a favorable stadium lease).
3) Strong "multiple" roots-oriented ownership . . . "so if one guy gets a divorce, or wants to sell . . . it doesn't disrupt the whole town."
Luckily for fans in Washington and other applicant cities, Ueberroth is only the commissioner. Doubly lucky is that he doesn't own a vote, can't tell the club owners where to expand and isn't even allowed in the council rooms when the owners decide on such grave matters as franchise awards.
In such details, the owners are very jealous of their authority. Expansion affairs and other areas that directly affect their pocketbooks are considered too sacred to be entrusted to a mere commissioner. He does have a blank check to decide at which hour the World Series will start.
The guidelines that Ueberroth has laid down for an expansion franchise are presumptuous, or arrogant, or both, and denote a yet-to-be-lost innocence in his first months on the job.
In only one point do Ueberroth's guidelines make tolerable sense -- his demand for a favorable stadium lease. And in Washington's case, that already is a given, with the whole city in a baseball passion and Mayor Marion Barry sworn to embrace with a sweetheart contract the first hero who brings baseball back.
Otherwise, Ueberroth's stipulations are fatuous and unrealistic, to wit: he wants a hard commitment by an as-yet-nonexistent franchise for the sale of 20,000 season tickets or roughly 1,600,000 attendance each year for five years. This, in the mere speculation that there may be a team in Washington. What tripe. There is evidence the Yankees didn't sell 20,000 season tickets last year in great big New York. They aren't saying how many, but their attendance was only a couple of hundred thousand beyond what 20,000 season tickets would account for.
If such a demand is a sample of the logic brought to his new job by Ueberroth, the former Olympics superboss, then the miracle of the 1984 Games was their success under the aegis of this man.
Similarly, his suggestion for "multiple" ownership of a franchise makes no sense. Nor does his warning about the move-potential of a greedy or marital-plagued club owner. It can be presumed that in the 85-year history of the major leagues, there have been owners who undoubtedly were unhappy at home, and had at least some elements of greed. But let us go to the books.
In the last 85 years, baseball owners have operated collectively for 1,532 seasons. In that period, there have been exactly 12 franchise moves, or one every 129 years. There is a hint there for Ueberroth to come off it.
Rather than imposing hick town standards on a city like Washington, Ueberroth should be striving mightily to get Washington into the major leagues. It is the biggest city, by far, of any of the applicants for franchises. Its television market dwarfs that of 17 cities already in the majors. Its subway offers the best access to a stadium. And its 54,000-seat stadium was built for baseball.
Washington's extra plus, and an important one, is named Jack Kent Cooke. He has all the essentials, a passion for baseball and experience in the game. With his great gobs of money, he wants or needs no partners. Ueberroth could be reminded that, with partners, sometimes you'll get a George Steinbrenner, who is one of the "multiple" owners of the Yankees.
It has been said that Cooke may not be popular with certain club owners who have the vote. But if a popularity contest were held, fans in a dozen major league cities would vote their owners out. Cooke has been an exemplary chap as owner of the Redskins. If somewhat expansive when the Redskins did win a Super Bowl, he was gracious when they didn't.
Cooke isn't particular how he gets a team for Washington -- by the expansion route or by his bid to buy the money-losing San Francisco Giants, who are not guaranteed to stay there beyond 1985. Owner Bob Lurie is eager to sell.
Would Cooke gain the approval of NL club owners if he sought to move the Giants to Washington? Harken to the story of the late Lou Perini who, in 1953, successfully defied National League club owners who denied him permission to move his Boston Braves to Milwaukee. Perini advised them, "It's my team, and I'm moving it to Milwaukee, and you fellows are going there to play us, or else." They backed down.
Perini's "or else" was his threat of a suit, of the kind that netted Al Davis $50 million in antitrust damages from a now very sad and very unhappy National Football League. Among other things, Mr. Cooke is aware of all his rights, and his money can be such an obedient servant.