Thoughts on Baseball in DC

Doug Pappas points to an article in The Daily Press (Hampton Roads, VA) by Warner Hessler. Hessler believes Washington, DC ought to be the next home for the Expos for some simple reasons.

Only in the world of Major League Baseball would Charlotte, Las Vegas and Portland be considered better places to move a franchise than the Washington D.C., area. Only the fools who can’t read or understand a chart that includes the size, wealth and makeup of a region would consider Monterrey, Mexico, a better place for that franchise than Washington.

He is right that Washington is a big city without a baseball team. It seems it would be a great fit. But then I got to thinking, why didn’t Bud move the team down several years ago? Hessler has the standard DC response all queued up.

If MLB leaders were more interested in doing the right thing for its sport rather than placating Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, one of the country’s leading trial lawyers, who is also well-connected in the Democratic party, it would end the suspense and put the Expos in 48,000-seat RFK Stadium for a couple of years while a new one was built.

Why would a group of greedy owners not put a team in DC if it would generate more money for baseball? I don’t think the owners enjoy losing money on the Montreal project. But then we get to the common conspiracy theory that Peter Angelos is blocking the move. There is no doubt that Angelos does not want to compete with a team in DC, but there is no way he could or would block a move that would increase revenue for all other owners by a sale of the Expos to the highest bidder if the high bidder were in DC. The losses to the Orioles could easily be offset by payments to Angelos equal to the harm done to Oriole profitability. So, I don’t buy this as an explanation for why Washington lacks a baseball team and missed out on the last several rounds of expansion.

So, I thought some more about it. I spent four years in the DC area, and I have to say it is not a normal city. My nation’s capital has lots of crime, lots of resident turnover, and a very widely dispersed population. I am not sure if this makes Washington a bad baseball city, but it might. So, I decided to look at some data on attendance of the Washington Senators I (Twins) and II (Rangers) relative to the rest of the league. The table below lists Washington attendance relative to the league for four time-periods: the entire history of baseball in Washington (1892-1971), the entire modern era (1920-1971), the “Twins” Senators modern era (1920-1960), and the “Rangers” era (1961). I use two types of measures of attendance: attendance relative to the league average (using the mean and median for the reported time-periods) and the ratio of Washington attendance to the league minimum attendance. I also report the ratio of the league average attendance to the league minimum for comparison.

Attendance 1892-1971 1920-1971 1920-1960 1961-1971
% of League Ave. (mean) 68.05% 71.25% 74.66% 58.54%
% of League Ave. (median) 65.63% 67.21% 68.97% 58.70%
Wash/League Min. 2.09 2.14 2.40 2.12
League Ave/League Min. 3.19 2.98 3.23 3.08

Data from Fort’s Sports Data Page

While I don’t want to call Washington a bad baseball city, it would be hard to call it a good one either. I know the Senators were historically bad, but maybe they were bad because no one would pay to go even if they were good. Also, I am not saying that the Expos would not work in Washington, but now I see why the owners may be a little hesitant to name a third team the Senators. I would be interested to see what other readers think of this, so please e-mail me if you have any thoughts on this.

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