One by one, the pieces seem to be falling into place -- and at precisely the right time -- for Washington's campaign to acquire a major league baseball expansion team.
Today, a five-man contingent from Washington will make a one-hour presentation to Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and to baseball's long-range planning committee in New York as part of a screening process that will include 12 cities hoping to acquire a franchise.
Although no final decision is expected to be made on expansion this week, it is believed the committee will narrow the number of candidates and make recommendations that will be presented to team owners at their winter meetings in San Diego, Dec. 9-13.
The D.C. presentation group will consist of City Councilman Frank Smith, Robert Pincus (president of D.C. National Bank), Andy Ockershausen (executive vice president of WMAL radio), attorney Robert Washington and land developers Oliver T. Carr and James Clark, both part of a group of local investors hoping to own a team here.
The technical staff traveling to New York will consist of special counsel Nathaniel Bush, Jim Dalrymple (general manager of RFK Stadium) and Morris Siegel, consultant to the D.C. Baseball Commission.
Jack Kent Cooke, the Redskins owner who aspires to be sole owner of a baseball team here, was invited to join the D.C. presentation group, but chose, instead, to send a letter to the commissioner's office.
The other cities that will make presentations are Denver, Indianapolis, Vancouver, Miami, Phoenix, New Orleans, Buffalo, Nashville, East Rutherford, N.J., Columbus, Ohio, and a joint presentation from Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla.
"Our history is that we are a two-time loser (the Senators moved from here twice, in 1961 and 1971), but the whole point of our presentation is that the Washington of 1985 is not the Washington of 1971," Smith, who also serves as chairman of the D.C. Baseball Commission, said at a news conference at RFK Stadium yesterday. "It's a new town, a new area, a new time."
The D.C. contingent will have plenty of bulk in its presentation, which was prepared, in part, by the Michael K. Deaver and Associates lobbying firm. The aim is to show how Washington meets the criteria Ueberroth established for cities seeking a franchise.
First, more than 10,800 pledges for season tickets have been sold, meaning that more than $6 million has been deposited in area banks, Smith said.
Furthermore, on Sept. 25, the D.C. City Council approved in principle the issuance of $13.7 million in general obligation bonds to refurbish RFK Stadium and to ready it for baseball. The proposed funds would be spent only if Congress approves the transfer of title to RFK Stadium from the Department of Interior to the D.C. government and if the city gains a major league team.
Yesterday, the transfer moved one step closer to reality when the Senate committee on energy and natural resources voted, 17-0, to approve it. Since the House already has voted approval, the next step is the final one: a vote on the Senate floor, expected shortly.
In a related issue, it was learned the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves tentatively have agreed to play two exhibition games at RFK Stadium on the weekend of April 5-6, 1986. Both teams confirmed the plans yesterday.
Dalrymple also confirmed yesterday that negotiations are taking place with the teams. Although baseball is expected to make a decision on expansion before the games would be played, Dalrymple said, "It would be a good show to see, anyway."
The number of local groups vying for ownership of a team has taken on an easy-to-define configuration: Cooke is on one side and everyone else is on the other. The group of Carr, Clark and Robert Smith, another land developer, recently joined forces with Dr. Robert Schattner and developer Ted Lerner.
Bowie Kuhn, the former baseball commissioner, serves as spokesman for this group and is expected to assume a role in the front office if it gains a team. It is unclear whether it is merely coincidence that the screening process today and Friday will take place in the law offices of Wilkie, Farr and Gallagher, the same firm that employs Kuhn. Kuhn did not return calls yesterday.
Meanwhile, sources indicated that Lerner and Schattner contacted San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie about buying that struggling franchise prior to joining forces with Carr, Clark and Smith. Cooke also has been in contact with Lurie. Neither Lerner nor Schattner returned calls yesterday.
In an interview last week, however, Lurie indicated he will make every attempt to keep his team in San Francisco.
Two members of the Giants front office reportedly met this week with Denver officials to explore the possibility that Denver's Mile High Stadium could become a temporary home for the Giants.
However, Steve Katich, executive director of Denver's baseball commission, said, "There was nothing of substance decided."
Dalrymple said there should not be a problem in negotiating a favorable lease with a potential team owner. He said the D.C. Armory Board's plans to refurbish RFK Stadium require $4 million to add 13,590 retractable seats, $1.5 million to build office and storage areas, $1.5 million to improve the playing surface, $1.2 million to create a club reception and dining area and $1.7 million for general improvements to the ticket office, locker rooms, concession stands and media facilities. He said between $4 million and $7 million would be required (in addition to the $13.7 million) to build luxury skyboxes.
Dalrymple said the new seats would increase stadium capacity by 2,000 for both football (up to 57,000) and baseball (49,000).