Having spent more than six years laying the groundwork for Washington's efforts to regain a major league baseball team, the D.C. Baseball Commission will conduct its last formal activity this morning at the District Building when it presents its final report to Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and the City Council.
The commission was created in 1984 under legislation that was to expire three years later. But with no baseball team on the horizon, the legislation was extended until September 1990. So, from a technical standpoint, the commission has been non-existent since then.
As a practical matter, however, Councilman Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), the commission's chairman, and the commissioners remained near the front of Washington's latest bid for a team.
However, there is a new city council in place, and a group led by developer John Akridge is on the short list of six finalists for the two National League expansion teams that will begin play in 1993.
Smith said it is time for the commission to play a supporting role. Although he plans to introduce legislation that would extend the baseball commission for one year, he also plans to reintroduce legislation that would create the Washington Sports Authority. The nine-member panel would consolidate the D.C. Armory Board and the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission into a single body that would be responsible for RFK Stadium and the D.C. Armory (as the Armory Board is now) and that would also promote the city as a site for major sporting events. But it would be for Akridge to decide how his group could best use the authority's efforts.
"We have accomplished our major goal, which was helping get the city on the short list," said Smith, who added that the commission's members will be ready to help Akridge's group, regardless of the sports authority legislation's fate. "I've said all along we were just trying to prepare the table, so to speak. The final step is to the ownership group. They have to be the final player in this."
The commission, particularly Smith, served as the first player.
"When it first started, Washington wasn't even mentioned" as a possible site for expansion, said Sovran Bank President Robert Pincus, a former commission member and one of the people helping Akridge organize his group. "The public was cynical and negative. Frank overcame that. He and the commission maintained the focus of the region on bringing baseball back to Washington, but they also worked nationally, with regard to baseball's owners."
Smith and Pincus were the driving forces behind the two events in 1986 that helped put Washington back on the map as a possible site for a team. There was the season ticket drive and a presentation to the baseball owners' long-range planning committee.
For the ticket campaign, the commission asked fans to open special savings accounts at area banks and deposit an amount equivalent to the estimated price of a full-season ticket, one-third season ticket or 10-game plan. Smith has said that more than 4,200 accounts were opened with total deposits of $9 million -- representing commitments to purchase the equivalent of about 15,000 season tickets.
The presentation before the long-range planning committee, which involved developers Oliver Carr and James Clark as potential owners, helped convince the baseball world that someone would step forward to own a Washington franchise.
Although baseball remained dormant with regard to expansion until last year, the commission continued working.
"We kept baseball in people's minds," Smith said. "We created an atmosphere where it was easier for Akridge's group to step forward. I am very pleased with what we did, very pleased."