Long before names such as Lerner, Kuhn, Carr and Allbritton surfaced on the Washington baseball expansion scene, there was the name of Cooke.

From the very beginning, Jack Kent Cooke has made it clear that he would like to own a major league baseball team in Washington. Ask him if this desire is born of civic pride or merely to fulfill a dream and Cooke will say, "It is both."

Cooke, 72, says he is not concerned with the competition, but only that the District gets a team.

"I want a baseball team for the city of Washington because I believe the city richly deserves a team. Whether I am the lucky one to bring a team to to the city is irrelevant," Cooke says.

"The important thing is to bring a National League team to Washington. If someone else brings a team to Washington, I will say God bless them. I have no pride in the authorship of that team."

Certainly, Cooke is a shrewd businessman. To doubt this is to look at the truth and turn the other cheek. That he owns 100 percent of the stock ownership in Pro Football Inc. -- which is the Washington Redskins -- is a very small drop in Cooke's very large business bucket. Cooke's net worth was valued at $600 million last year by Forbes Magazine, making him the wealthiest owner in the National Football League.

Earlier this month, Cooke dropped his hostile takeover bid for Multimedia Inc. after that company agreed to repurchase Cooke's 1.6 million shares in a transaction that gave him a pretax profit of a reported $25 million.

Cooke also owns the Chrysler Building in Manhattan. He owns the Kent Building in Manhattan. He owns downtown real estate in Phoenix known as Kent Plaza. He owns Elmendorf Farm Inc., the Lexington, Ky., racing stable and breeding firm.

He owns Video Tape Enterprises, which provides remote video services from special events such as the Olympics, and extensive Virginia real estate. He is the chairman of Group W Cable, which includes cable television interests.

Cooke has had a lengthy involvement in sports ownership. His first touch of baseball came in 1951, when he purchased the Toronto Maple Leafs of the AAA International League. One year later, Cooke was named the minor league executive of the year as voted by The Sporting News.

Cooke owned the Maple Leafs for 14 years. In 1964, his final year as owner of the club, Cooke hired a 30-year-old named George Anderson to his first managerial job. Now, the same man is known as Sparky and last year he led the Detroit Tigers to the world championship.

Cooke also owned the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and the Los Angeles Kings hockey team during the 1970s. He signed Earvin (Magic) Johnson to his first professional contract.

In an interview late last fall, Cooke said that he would turn the Redskins over to his son John, 43, now the team's executive vice-president, if one of three events would take place: the Redskins next win the Super Bowl; the Redskins next appear in the Super Bowl; or the powers of major league baseball decide to grant Cooke a baseball franchise in Washington.

"I will move over to the operation of the baseball club, and John will run the football club exclusively. I am phasing myself out gradually now," Cooke said at the time. "John is becoming increasingly important in the operation of the Redskins and has relieved me of a good 50 percent of the supervisory work and management work heretofore."

Cooke also has offered to pay $15 million for improvements for RFK Stadium to make it ready for baseball if the District government will, in return, give Cooke a "master lease" that would make him the park's sole tenant for 20 years. None of the other groups interested in bringing baseball to Washington has made an offer as yet to pay for the necessary stadium improvements.

"Is it better for the public to have me pay for those improvements than to have it be taken out of the taxpayers' pockets?" Cooke said in an interview with The Post earlier this summer. "Why, that's a rhetorical question. It answers itself.

"Emphatically, yes. Incomparably, yes."