To be there, or not to be there. That is the question. Whether 'tis wiser in the mind to ignore the pangs and urges to make gracious lobby, or to take flight against the word of baseball -- and go to Cleveland.
That's where Major League Baseball owners will congregate today for two days of meetings that will conclude with an announcement of the timetable and criteria for the National League's two-team expansion.
Representatives from many of the cities seeking a team have said they will attend, including those from Washington. Whether they are welcome is another issue.
"These are regular, quarterly business meetings for baseball ownership," NL spokeswoman Katy Feeney said yesterday. "That's all. No word has been put out, but anybody who has called has been told. This is not the time for presentations or lobbying."
There is likely to be plenty of time for that.
"My view is that it is going to take . . . perhaps as much as a year" for the owners to decide which cities will receive the new franchises, Commissioner Fay Vincent said following a meeting here last month with the Senate Task Force on Major League Baseball Expansion.
But any time all 26 major league owners are in one place you have to take advantage, said Councilman Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), chairman of the D.C. Baseball Commission, and Mark Tracz, leader of a group of area businessmen that would base a Washington franchise in Northern Virginia.
"We intend to meet with as many owners as we can, especially those on the expansion committee," Tracz said last week. "Just to take the opportunity to introduce ourselves. We'll work the lobby. We don't want to get into any big entertainment situations."
"That's why they call it lobbying," Smith said last week. "You sit in a lobby waiting for somebody to come by who will talk to you. I've been around a few of these things."
The news conference will take place early Thursday afternoon. Today, the AL and NL owners will have separate meetings. Thursday morning, there will be a joint owners meeting. Among the topics to be discussed, Feeney said, are the pending sale of the San Diego Padres from Joan Kroc to a group headed by Los Angeles television producer Tom Werner and moves toward new stadiums in Cleveland and outside San Francisco. The sale of the Padres must be approved by three-quarters of the NL owners and a majority of the AL owners.
But most of the drama will unfold at the news conference.
"It's news that's been a long time coming," said Pat Williams, who is leading a prospective ownership group from Orlando, Fla.
As for what the news will be, Vincent said "my sense is that the criteria will not come as a major surprise."
Speculation about the basic entry fee has ranged from $75 million to $100 million. For other possible criteria, attention has focused on a document developed in 1985 by baseball's long-range planning committee.
In what it called an "outline" of the requirements for being awarded a franchise, the committee said owners need to have "significant community identification" and "long-term commitment to the club and community." It cited preferences for "individual ownership interests as opposed to corporate interests" and "multiple ownership interests." It said an owner's net worth should be $100 million or more.
Private ownership of a stadium is preferred, with the stadium being a baseball-only facility with natural grass and a seating capacity of 35,000 to 45,000, luxury suites and a state of the art video board.
The outline also calls for a commitment of 10,000 full-season ticket holders for the first five years of operation.
Like many prospective owners, Bob Rich Jr. has been fulfilling the 1985 requirements rather meticulously while building Buffalo's expansion bid. But he said he understands there is no guarantee the new criteria will be the same.
Prospective owners also want to know the terms under which they will obtain players, how long in advance of a major league opening day they will be able to operate a minor league system and -- perhaps most important -- when new teams will be able to receive a share of national television and radio rights money.
"Our ownership is very anxious to hear" the answers to those questions, Rich said.