Now that Edward Bennett Williams, the renowned Washington lawyer, owns the Baltimore Orioles, citizens of the nation's capital can't help but feel that it's only a matter of time before the Orioles are freed from that minor league town up Interstate 95 and moved to the baseball bigtime in the District of Columbia. How wrong they are. Not about moving—it's entirely possible that Williams will make that mistake—but in assuming that D.C. is big league territory. It isn't.
This is an article from the May 26, 1980 issue
When Jonathan Yardley wrote about his beloved Orioles in SI's April 7 issue, he chastised Washingtonians for their arrogance in trying to steal the Orioles away, saying that D.C. fans should remember that they have twice been robbed of teams of their own: in 1961 by Minnesota, in 1972 by Texas. What Yardley failed to add—probably out of a sense of decency, not wanting to kick a dog when it's down—is that Minnesota and Texas gave the teams they swiped from Washington far greater support than the District ever did and that, based on past performances. Washington will not rally round the Orioles nearly as enthusiastically as poor old Baltimore has.
Consider these facts: in the 18 seasons (1954-1971) that the Orioles and two versions of the Senators played 40 miles apart—including a number of years when the Orioles, like the perennially lowly Senators, finished far down in the American League standings—Baltimore outdrew Washington every season, both before and after the Senators moved into RFK Stadium.
Further, the Orioles didn't merely outdraw the Senators, they smothered them. Washington never drew a million fans in a season and attracted more than 770,000 only twice; the Orioles never dropped that low and drew more than a million eight times. Their attendance was 60% higher over the 18 years.
This may be unnecessary piling on, but it's true: Washington holds the record for most major league franchises lost. And it's not two teams, it's six. Big league clubs died or left town after the following seasons: 1884 (two disappeared that year, one from the American Association, one from the Union Association), 1889, 1899, 1960 and 1971.
In short, despite sentimental protests from a small but highly vocal group of nostalgic Senators fans and the self-serving posturing of Congressional advocates of baseball for D.C., the cold truth is that Washington is a lousy baseball town, has always been a lousy baseball town and probably will always be a lousy baseball town. Keeping the Orioles in Baltimore is simply good business.