By John Helyar

(FORTUNE Magazine) – BASEBALL HAS A DREARY HISTORY IN WASHINGTON, D.C., where the saying used to be: "First in war, first in peace, last in the American League." The original Washington Senators became the Twins in 1961; the expansion Senators have been the Rangers since 1972. The city's third team, the Nationals, has an even bleaker lineage. Born the Montreal Expos, the club was targeted for extinction in 2001 but survived and became an orphan--jointly owned by every other big-league team and forced to split its home schedule between Montreal and San Juan, where it played to indifferent French Canadians and bemused Puerto Ricans, respectively.

Now the team is for sale, and the city is in the grip of a new strain of Potomac fever. Who would want to drop $300 million--plus on this ball club?

Some of the biggest VIPs and capitalists in the capital, that's who. Consider just one bidding group, the Washington Baseball Club: It's headed by Fred Malek, a former Nixon and Bush Sr. political hand, and includes Colin Powell, prominent Democratic power broker Vernon Jordan, and Franklin Raines, former chief of Fannie Mae. (Raines is not to be confused with the chairman of Sallie Mae, Albert Lord, who heads another group.) Other hopefuls: George Soros and Peter Fitzgerald, Republican ex-Senator from Illinois.

What's the attraction? One, the Nationals will get a $533 million stadium--stand by for the sweetest words in Washington--at taxpayer expense. Two, the ballpark will have 70 luxury suites (that's--what?--130 Canadian?) leased by lobbyists and other moneyed interests. Prediction: From now on, congressional steroid panels will target division rivals. Watch your backs, Mets, Braves, Marlins, and Phillies!

The Expos were in limbo for three seasons. If it takes that long to pick the Nationals' owner, a new bidder could pop up. For instance, there's this former Rangers owner, now at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue ...