The D.C. Baseball Commission resolved yesterday to continue its season-ticket campaign and to begin lobbying for the support of individual major league owners by traveling to other cities or by enticing owners to visit Washington.
In the face of baseball owners' slow-cook approach to expansion, the commission also pledged to try to lure two National League teams to play at least one exhibition game at RFK Stadium in early April as a further showing of fan support. Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and the 26 major league owners last week in San Diego met and discussed expansion, but made no commitments and set no timetables.
"The problem is it's difficult to format what happens from here on out in baseball," said District Councilman Frank Smith, commission chairman. "We could be on a treadmill, ad infinitum. But it's possible that one thing happening, such as relocation of an existing franchise, could trigger something else.
"I'm still confident that we are going to get a team. I'm taking that for granted."
There were conflicting views among commission members whether to continue the campaign in which more than 15,000 season-ticket pledges to a nonexistent team have been received, with more than $8 million deposited in area banks. Robert Pincus, president of D.C. National Bank and a commission member, said he checked with five of the banks that had accepted deposits for season tickets and, as of several days ago, there had been no withdrawals.
"These people put their money in the bank for a purpose, and that purpose is not dead," Pincus said. "If their money has enhanced baseball owners' view of Washington, then there is no reason to take it out. We are all still optimistic."
However, Morris Siegel, consultant to the commission, urged that the season-ticket campaign end immediately. "The other cities haven't sold any season tickets, and they got the same consideration we did in San Diego," Siegel said.
Siegel also noted that a better approach would be to mimic the actions of the eight cities that made up Branch Rickey's Continental League in the late 1950s.
"All eight cities in that league are now in the major leagues, and they did it not by selling a single season ticket, but by lobbying. They did it not by lobbying the baseball commissioner, but by lobbying the baseball owners," Siegel said.
"That's what we have to do."
A commission member also proposed joining forces with other expansion-hopeful cities, such as Denver and Tampa/St. Petersburg, to unify and strengthen strategies for expansion. It seems unlikely, though, that any action will take place on this proposal.
Commission members stressed the importance of completing transfer of ownership of RFK Stadium from the Department of Interior to the District government. The House passed the bill in June, but opposition from Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) has stalled a bill in the Senate.
Siegel said the District government must allot the necessary $13 million to $15 million to make improvements at RFK as soon as possible in order to make the city more attractive to baseball owners.
Smith disagreed, saying, "No politician worth his salt would vote to give up that kind of money, because if you're wrong (and no team comes to Washington), you've got some problems to answer to."
As of yesterday, it was unclear who would represent the District in meetings with baseball owners. Pincus said he will recommend land developers Oliver T. Carr Jr. and James Clark, part of a group hoping to bring a team here. Smith said he would like to be one of the District's representatives. He said Mayor Marion Barry might join in or different representatives might travel to visit with different owners, "depending on who you know in baseball."
A tenatively scheduled game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds at RFK Stadium for early April recently fell through when the teams insisted on a two-game series with $40,000 guaranteed per team for each game, according to Joe Riley, president of the Greater Washington Sports Authority. Riley said costs to the authority could have reached $400,000.