No matter who wins the election next month, Washington, D.C. will have a very welcome new resident in the first quarter of 2005. The fortuitous and long-awaited announcement came just over a week ago, and was met with the type of excitement and anticipation in the Beltway one might rightly expect of a newly-minted Washington insider.
The Capital’s new resident, of course, is the franchise formerly known as the Montreal Expos, which after two years as Major League Baseball’s ward of the state, will finally have a real home — one that will enthusiastically welcome it with open arms.
Baseball in Washington has a long and storied history. It was one of the founding cities of the American League, and was home to one of the original 16 franchises that comprised the majors from 1901 until 1954. It was a nice, long run.
When that team, the original Washington Senators, packed up and moved to Minneapolis to become the Twins after the 1960 season, the nation’s capital did not remain deprived of the national pastime long — the new Washington Senators made their debut as baseball’s first modern-era expansion team in 1961.
When those Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1972, Washington was left with a serious void. That void was finally filled on Sept. 29, when Major League Baseball announced it had awarded the Expos to Washington.
A lot has changed in Washington since professional baseball was last played there 33 years ago. But what remains the same is that it is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city that belongs in the baseball universe. Washington is the eighth-largest television market in the country, and had been by far the largest metropolitan area in the United States to not have at least one franchise in each of the four major professional sports.
Now, that omission has been corrected, and the people of Washington, Maryland, and Northern Virginia will reap the benefits.
The return of baseball to Washington can only benefit the vast majority of effected constituencies. The city will benefit, as it provides another productive, community-unifying source of entertainment. The league will benefit, as it adds another high-profile, high-population area to the sport’s market. As baseball has been drastically slipping in public popularity in recent years, this will be a tremendous benefit.
Yes, the move of the Expos to Washington will even benefit the Baltimore Orioles. And this is not because of the overly generous compensation package the league and Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos agreed on. Angelos worried that the addition of another major league team within 35 miles of Baltimore would drastically hurt the Orioles. Yet he ignores the fact that the two most valuable franchises in baseball are located within a mere eight miles of each other. In New York, a high-profile American League team and a high-profile National League team have co-existed for 43 years. They feed off each other. Their fans feed off each other.
The rivalry benefits both. Sure, neither Baltimore nor Washington is nearly as large as New York, but combined they come close.
While the economic impacts that a professional sports franchise can deliver to a municipality will always be a controversial issue, there are innumerable intangible benefits that are simply undeniable. Sports serve to unite, to inspire, and to provide common ground. If there was ever a place in the United States that needs all of these things, it is clearly Washington, D.C.
Owen Bochner is the Sun Sports Editor. In the O-Zone will appear every other Friday this semester.
Archived article by Owen Bochner