Edward Bennett Williams was a Washingtonian. That fact hovered darkly over Orioles fans.
For the years Williams owned the team, Baltimoreans worried that their ballclub was in the hands of an out-of-towner, a man who could choose at any moment to move the Orioles down the parkway to D.C.
To be sure, Williams -- tough, gruff, a superstar lawyer and Washington power broker -- never actually threatened to take the club from Baltimore. He didn't have to. The thought lingered, unspoken. Even as fans set attendance records at Memorial Stadium, Williams complained that the ballpark was inadequate, unprofitable and badly located. He refused to sign a long-term lease. He kept up the pressure.
And there was another problem, one more ominous: Williams had been battling cancer for years. He said he believed "that I hold that franchise in trust for the city of Baltimore." But no one could be sure his heirs would sell to new owners who shared that trust.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer recalls asking him repeatedly for the security of a long-term lease. "He said, 'Well, the answer to that is no. . . . I will never sign a long-term lease unless there is a new stadium built.' He meant that," Schaefer said.
The Colts left in 1984. The pressure for a new stadium increased. In 1987, with the project before the legislature, Williams testified in Annapolis. A new ballpark, he told them, would secure the Orioles and bring international attention to Maryland. "I'm concerned about anything that affects the state we live in and love," he told lawmakers.
"He made the difference," Schaefer said. The stadium plan passed. In May 1988, Williams signed a 15-year lease for the new stadium. He died three months later.