The Nats back in RFK Stadium. The reborn Colts in a new park in Baltimore, right next to the Orioles' custom-made yard by the Inner Harbor. And for the Redskins, a huge glamor dome in the suburbs worthy of a Super Bowl.
Fantasy, yes. Impossible, no. In the works? Why not? And at little tax cost to the public, yet with big profit potential for owners. But will the main characters, each wrapped in their own dramas, see their connected interests?
Watching rich men as they pursue their self-interest can be a trifle annoying. Sometimes they master the trick of remaining eminently moral while still stepping on toes.
Jack Kent Cooke wants a new domed stadium with 75,000 seats to house his Redskins. As yet, he hasn't suggested that a penny come out of his pocket.
Cooke also wants to buy an expansion baseball team for Washington, if one ever exists. This despite the fact that major league owners are warmer to the advances of other Washington ownership syndicates, fearing Cooke's reputation for headstrong individualism.
Edward Bennett Williams, despite rumors to the contrary, does not want to sell the Baltimore Orioles. Not now, anyway. "I just got a big, big offer," he said last week. "I wrote back two sentences. 'Received your letter of August 21. I have no interest.' "
However, many owners think Williams might sell in the foreseeable future. He bought for $12 million in '79. Team value peaked at $55 million and is now declining along with the club's record. "It's one of those rumors that's going to come true -- eventually," says an American League owner.
For the moment, Williams wants to find out whether Maryland will build the new $100 million baseball stadium near Camden Yards that he dreams about when he sees humble, yet functional Memorial Stadium. Like Cooke, Williams has not suggested any of his capital be expended on the new park. Let taxpayers build it and rent it to him at low enough rates to raise the hope of healthy profits; they can worry later about whether he will decide to sell and to whom.
Williams stands by his statement -- "I will not stand in the way of baseball for Washington" -- but baseball observers wonder if he would use his influence to block an expansion team -- even a National League club -- from coming to D.C. Three-quarters of AL owners have to approve an AL expansion team and half have to approve an NL team.
"As long as Williams emphasizes that 20 percent of his attendance comes from Washington, I don't think D.C. could get the votes to enter either league," points out one source on the expansion committee. "Owners just don't do that to each other on basic issues. Ed would not have to lift a finger to stop an expansion team for Washington. He'd have total 'plausible deniability.'
"I think Ed would have to give the word that he's in favor of baseball for D.C. before it would happen."
If Williams would not stand in the way of baseball for D.C., would he support Washington getting an NL team? "No comment."
Baltimore is dying to give Williams a sweetheart deal on land if only he would finance his own ballpark near the Inner Harbor. But Williams is not as rich as, say, the O'Malley family that created the goldmine called Chavez Ravine. Cooke, however, is that rich. What if he, and some of his friends, helped Williams build a stadium. They'd probably all get wealthier.
Who else might aide Williams? Why not James Clark and Oliver T. Carr, two Washington developers worth about $700 million who have said they want to buy an expansion baseball team for D.C.
What could Williams, proud boss of a new money-magnet ballyard, do to make matters even? First, he'd say that Carr and Clark would be perfect owners for an NL expansion team in Washington. He'd nominate them.
Where would Washington's baseball team play? In RFK Stadium, of course. It would be bad for taxpayers if the Redskins departed and left RFK bereft of any major paying tenant. But with a baseball team in RFK, Mayor Marion Barry could swell his chest, proud that a baseball team brings in more rent in 81 games than an NFL team does in nine. So what if the Redskins moved to Fairfax and their domed park with sky boxes?
And who would get this Xanadu constructed -- this Jack Kent Cooke Stadium? Why Ed Williams would call on his political and media friends for help. He'd even plead the case. As for Carr and Clark, that's what they do -- suburban real estate and construction.
Domed stadia, worthy of holding a Super Bowl or Olympics -- and with your name on the side in letters 10 feet high -- don't come around every day. Cooke would be eager to do the right thing all around. The next time the NFL expanded, he'd speak up for a city which deserves a team. Baltimore -- home of the expansion Colts.
Why couldn't this happen? Especially since rumblings indicate that baseball expansion is becoming a hotter topic. "Two years ago when I mentioned expansion, 12 owners would jump up to call me a jerk," said an executive. "Now, the trend has shifted. Owners want to talk about it."
We all have our dreams. Come back in 1990 or so and what do we see?
Two new $100 million parks in Camden Yards. The baseball stadium privately financed by Williams with help from his friends. The football stadium built largely with public money because if there's anything on earth Marylanders want to do with their tax dollars it's get back the Colts.
The Washington Nationals of the NL playing in sold-out RFK on opening day with Cooke and Williams shaking hands with new owners Carr and Clark.
The Redskins playing in one of America's most gloriously modern parks in the Washington suburbs. Okay, maybe without a dome. What a profit factory it would be for the primary stadium owner -- Cooke, the O'Malley of the East. On hand at JKC Stadium would be all 20,000 people on the Redskins season-ticket waiting list. And they thought they had to wait 353 years to get in.
What would be necessary? Clark, Carr and Williams already are friendly. Now if Williams could just bring himself to pick up the phone, forget a few bygones, and call his old friend Cooke, for whom he once ran the Redskins . . .
Of course, maybe it would all be better if nobody tried to do anything. Let everybody play the hand they hold.
Williams could block Carr and Clark by not doing anything; no baseball in Washington despite expansion. The referendum could kill Williams' new Oriole stadium, and he wouldn't get the money to build one himself. He'd eventually sell, fearful of falling attendance.
Cooke could end up back in RFK, after leveraging a better lease maybe, but with no sky boxes, no 75,000 seats and no Super Bowl in his own park.
Sometimes the choice is between a dream and a nightmare.