IT'S POSSIBLE that a Washington baseball team would only slightly hinder the Orioles' ability to stay competitive. Or it could become a devastating obstacle to the Baltimore franchise's success.
The truth is that no one really knows which eventuality would come to pass.
But here's one thing that's indisputable: Adding a second major-league franchise so close to this area couldn't help Baltimore's beloved Orioles. Not in a market this small; not when so much of baseball's revenue comes from television and radio rights and sponsorships; and not when the difference between big-market and small-market clubs plays out so dramatically on the field each year.
So it just doesn't make sense for Major League Baseball to be considering the relocation of a team to Washington or Northern Virginia. The Orioles are the team for this area; they're financially successful and (when owner Peter Angelos makes the right personnel decisions) they're capable of being competitive on the field. Why mess with that success? Why even risk turning the Orioles into the Kansas City Royals or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays?
Unfortunately, baseball commissioner Bud Selig feels differently - or at least he's saying he does. A few weeks ago, he announced that the Washington area was a prime candidate to receive a franchise, probably one from another city.
Mr. Selig may have simply been trying to charm politicos in the capital, to divert attention from the ire he raised when he said earlier that baseball would eliminate two franchises. But his flirtation nonetheless titillated those in D.C. and Northern Virginia who want to see baseball in that area.
Last week, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner announced that he will do everything in his power to help facilitate the creation of a franchise in his state. Earlier this month, Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore also chimed in to express his enthusiasm for the idea.
Their excitement is understandable, but frankly, all the advocates of D.C. baseball are off base.
The Baltimore franchise is plenty capable of serving this entire area's baseball cravings. That's why Camden Yards was built where it is, with speedy access to I-95. That's why the stadium was configured as it is - a big-market ballpark with a glut of luxury boxes and club seating.
Introducing another franchise into this market would be redundant at best, and harmful at worst. The Orioles could lose fan support from the D.C. area, which is estimated to be as high as 25 percent. Perhaps more important, the club could lose lucrative radio and TV deals and sponsorships. Washington area businesses, for example, would be more likely to buy advertising and skyboxes at a D.C. ballpark than at Camden Yards.
If that happens, the Orioles, currently the third-highest-grossing major-league franchise, would become more like struggling teams in much smaller markets. The truth is that without the D.C. area, Baltimore would be the fourth-smallest market in the major leagues - above only Cincinnati, Kansas City and Milwaukee in population. We'd hate to see the Orioles struggle with payroll issues like clubs in those cities.
Certainly, there's no chance a club could be relocated to the D.C. area this year. And it may be a long shot at any time, given the league's odd decision-making.
The best course, though, would be to forget about this idea altogether and concentrate on making the Orioles the best they can be for this region.