Commentary : Peter Ueberroth Will Be Hearing Plenty From Washington

Washington Post

This isn't television, so you don't have to rush right out and get a pencil and paper. But in this next paragraph I'm going to give you an address you will want to remember.

Office of the Commissioner. 350 Park Avenue. New York, N.Y. 10022.

That's how you reach Peter Ueberroth.

And as we go on, I'm going to tell you what you should reach him with.

Last Friday in Washington, after having laid out the "ideal" qualifications for landing one of baseball's expansion franchises--solid demonstration of local public and political support, and the presentation of "multiple, roots-oriented ownership"--Ueberroth was asked what he thought of our city in that regard.

I want to be fair now. I don't want to misinterpret Ueberroth's answer. For all I know there was some nuance I missed--perhaps a raised eyebrow or a knowing glance, something so subtle that I missed it completely.

Ueberroth said: "I like the market; it's the seventh-largest market. I rode the subway. Big improvement. That's all. That's all the positives. I don't know any other positives."

Big market. Nice subway.

Back to you, Brent.

Okay, one step at a time: local political support for a team is easy. What city wouldn't want a major league team? Offhand, I can only think of Palo Alto, because of the potential negative impact chewing tobacco spit might have on the ozone layer, and Beirut, because how many times can you hold Helmet Night?

Ueberroth said he likes the subway; D.C. Mayor Marion Barry should promise to name the team the Moles (they'd love it in Langley, headquarters of the CIA) and play each game underground. Earl Weaver grew tomato plants; we'd grow mushrooms.

Multiple, roots-oriented ownership?

Like who? David Wolper and Alex Haley?

That bus wouldn't seem to stop at Jack Kent Cooke's farm; Cooke, in so many ways, is a singular man. Roots? In Washington, D.C.? Politics make for a sandy, shallow soil. Two terms is a lifetime here.

There isn't a wide pool for multiple, roots-oriented ownership here. You've got the inmates at Lorton prison, and the 112,000 car dealerships. Sure, you could probably put together a group of bureaucrats. But what if they decided to take an active role managing the franchise? Let's suppose there is a runner on first base, and the bureaucrats are trying to decide if he should try and steal second. By the time they receive all the studies from all the outside consultants, and print it in triplicate, and collate it, and hold hearings on it, and finally decide to to give the runner the green light, if he hadn't already died, he'd surely be too old to move.

Ueberroth said that those things we do best here--throwing cocktail parties, wining and dining self-infatuated big shots and using political pressure like a rubber hose--would be "counterproductive" to getting a team.

He said "proof of fan support" was critical, and that "the most visible way is commitments--hard commitments--to season ticket sales." Ueberroth used to be a travel agent, and he is used to seeing committment take the form of up-front cash money; a travel agent collects the money first and delivers on the promise later. Ueberroth said, "Some communities have 20,000 season tickets sold for the next five years. That's impressive."

It sure is.

I wish I could sell 20,000 season tickets to nothing. I'd settle for 5,000. Maybe if I moved to Denver, Tampa-St. Petersburg or Indianapolis; apparently, people there will buy anything.

Since Washingtonians are unlikely to put a down payment on a rib steak from a cow that hasn't been born yet, and since Ueberroth was reluctant to be specific on what a city could do to demonstrate "solid" support, it's up to us to figure out alternative ways to win his heart.

Money, feh! Money's cheap. There were 36 names listed on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week, and each one belongs to a man making at least $1 million a year playing baseball. If the owners need money, let them borrow from George Foster.

Here's where you'll want that address again.

Let's shower Peter Ueberroth with commitment.

Baseball people love to collect junk. Send them real Washington junk. Old peanut shells. "Whip Inflation Now" buttons. Let them know we're still here.

What's more baseball than Crackerjack? Let's send the commissioner boxes of Crackerjack. How many boxes? How about a round number like 500,000?

What's more Washingtonian than red tape? Let's send him red tape. How much? Enough to seal off the chamber where the Supreme Court will meet to rescind the antitrust exemption it granted baseball long ago, when there was a team here.

As a remembrance from the Olympics he ran so superbly, let's send Ueberroth photographs of the star of the Summer Games, Mary Lou Retton. What can you do with one million photographs of Mary Lou Retton? Well, that won't be our problem, will it?

History is working against us. We've had two teams here, and lost both. So baseball probably doesn't want to give us another one.

If we can't make them love us, maybe we can make them crazy.

Mail early, friends.

And mail often.

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