Fred Watts, in his VIEWPOINT (SI, May 26), argues that moving the Orioles from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. is a bad idea because our capital is a "lousy baseball town." I agree that the Orioles should remain in Memorial Stadium because, as a Washingtonian, I can attest that it's dirty pool for one city to annex the franchise of another. But I cannot agree with the charge that the District of Columbia is a bad place for baseball.
The parade of low attendance figures that so often accompanies that allegation proves nothing. Teams that draw fewer fans never consider moving, while those with more spectators sometimes do. Moreover, the history of poor support for baseball in D.C. is more a reflection of the poor quality of the teams the town has been stuck with than anything else.
Sure, Washington has lost six baseball franchises since 1884, but there are reasons for that—specifically, poor management—that go beyond the simplistic explanation of inadequate ticket sales. Watts also claims that it is the District's undue political clout that's responsible for its being considered for yet another franchise. He couldn't be more wrong.
The real trouble with Washington, D.C. is that its citizens have had no political influence. The city did not even elect its own mayor until five years ago, and its representative in Congress does not have a vote. The District has offered little resistance when various baseball owners have decided to move, with the exception of a few complaints from miscellaneous Congressmen—mostly of the sort who pack no wallop on the Hill.
Washington's most recent loss—the expansion Senators' shift to some freeway outpost in Texas—-was the work of Robert Short, a trucking magnate who bought the Washington team in 1969, turned it into the Texas Rangers in 1972 and sold it in 1974. He mismanaged the Senators. His bad trades ruined a team that had good prospects. His ticket prices were exorbitant. And Short's feelings for the baseball fans in Washington were nil. He sold out the District and made a great profit on the deal.
But Washington as a metropolitan area is improving, and the citizens are feeling pride of place now that they have some say in their political destinies. As Edward Bennett Williams, the Orioles' owner who used to be the Redskins' main man, can testify, you never hear the 'Skins griping about lack of support from the fans. The District has gotten a bum rap, and it deserves better.