Slowly, the pieces seem to be falling into place for a National League expansion baseball team for Washington in 1987, with Bowie Kuhn probably the front man for a syndicate of buyers.
First, the baseball strike was settled in a day.
Next, Kuhn came forward as a bona fide candidate to be a club boss.
Then, on Wednesday, the National League's two financially troubled franchises -- the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates -- resolved their complex situations the same day.
The Pirates found local buyers who will keep the team in Pittsburgh. Bob Lurie, the Giants' owner, apparently has worked out a deal to play at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for the next three years while the city of San Francisco tries to build the club a park that's not a joke.
"The picture has certainly gotten a lot clearer in a hurry," said National League President Chub Feeney here Wednesday night. "Now, we can turn more attention to expansion."
Feeney concurred that all recent developments are exactly those that could prove beneficial to interests in Washington.
"Settling the strike so fast kept the game from suffering a huge financial blow," said Feeney. "More important as far as expansion is concerned, we can now make plans five years down the road because our contract runs to 1990. New teams wouldn't walk right into a labor crisis . . .
"I can't imagine a better man than Bowie Kuhn to head a local group for an expansion team," added Feeney. "He's certainly a plus for Washington."
Feeney is a longtime Kuhn friend and a key member of the game's old-boy network that thinks Kuhn deserves to be CEO of a new team in his hometown as partial compensation for his humiliation in what most owners consider his unfair firing as commissioner.
Washington's hopes have been muddled and delayed by the uncertainties in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Would Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, buy the Giants for D.C.? Or would oilman Marvin Davis grab the club for Denver?
Would someone find a loophole in a Pirates lease that made out-of-town buyers shudder at the thought of trying to move the team?
Now, Pittsburgh is locked in place, bought for $22 million, plus $7 million in outstanding contract obligations.
The San Francisco situation is murkier since the mayor of Oakland is saying he doesn't want the Giants there, but Feeney's understanding is that Lurie believes a new stadium to replace Candlestick Park is now a priority for Mayor Dianne Feinstein's administration. Politicians who preside over the loss of major league baseball teams become former politicians.
Even if the team is the Giants.
The National League, with its customary eye for grabbing good markets away from the American League, sees Denver and Washington as the prime cities that are totally ready for expansion. If the NL could get both at once, it would probably jump, then snicker as, someday, the AL picks among the hungry boom towns that now pant openly at the chance of becoming "big league."
Adding an Indianapolis or Tampa, Vancouver or Buffalo, to your league hardly has the same panache and big-ticket potential of the Nation's Capital on the Potomac or the Yuppie Capital beside the Rockies.
As long as either the Giants or Pirates might have landed in Washington or Denver, the NL was leery. Now, enthusiasm for quick action may mount.
"The next step," said Feeney, "is a meeting in New York after the World Series of all the cities (in the expansion derby). What isn't clear yet is just what will be done then."
If decisive expansion action comes before next season, Washington may be glad, indeed, that its season-ticket drive has been a symbolic success. "Passed 10,000 recently, I understand," said Feeney, eyebrow raised, nodding. "That's impressive. Also, I don't think there's any other city that has nearly as much competition among local groups that all want to buy a team."
If there's a loser in recent developments, it may be Cooke. He was hot for an existing team because, that way, nobody would have to vote him into their club. He'd just buy his way in.
Cooke knows that Kuhn, who is aligned with the Oliver T. Carr and James Clark syndicate, is as rich in baseball pals and leverage as Cooke is rich in cash.
Also, Baltimore owner Edward Bennett Williams, who has every right to fear that a Washington team would hurt his attendance, might have more luck in a backroom attempt to block a new Cooke team than he would in stopping Kuhn.
As Feeney discussed expansion, which is almost a foregone conclusion within baseball, he watched the New York Mets, a franchise born in 1962, pull within one game of first place.
All it takes is a glance at the pleasure the Mets have brought New York for the past 20 years, or the joy that the Padres and Blue Jays (also expansion clubs) have provided San Diego and Toronto in the last few years to know the value of the prize so close to Washington's grasp.
After 14 years in the desert, Washington's fortunes seem finally to be turning. It's always surprising how the harder you work, the luckier you get.