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Big shots from both Northern Virginia and the District are busy trying to lure a Major League Baseball franchise to the Washington area. And to judge from accounts in the Washington Post, they both have a big asset on their rosters: market size.

On June 22, Metro columnist Marc Fisher called Washington the country’s fourth-largest market.

On June 20, sports columnist George Solomon called it the eighth-largest market.

On June 5, sports columnist Thomas Boswell called it the fifth-largest market.

On April 4, Solomon called it the seventh-largest market.

On April 1, Fisher called it the fifth largest market, “not including Baltimore.”

Do I hear a bid for sixth?

Going, going, gone: On June 28, sports reporter Steve Fainaru completed the sweep, calling Washington the sixth-largest market, “excluding Baltimore.” Including Baltimore, wrote Fainaru, the market consists of 7.6 million people.

So everyone can agree that the local market is large. But no one’s about to concede a mistaken ranking.

Fainaru, for starters, says that he crunched all the relevant Census Bureau numbers with the help of a researcher. “I had seen different figures in different stories, not just the Post,” says Fainaru, who says the process was “not uncomplicated.” “It required knowing what are we measuring and are we measuring it fairly,” he says.

Fisher, likewise, finds population figures malleable. “There are a million ways to count market size, and it depends on the geographic definition of the area as well as on who’s counting and when they’re counting,” writes the columnist via e-mail.

Solomon is sticking with his understanding that the market is the eighth-largest. “My information came straight from latest market research data….Exact figures and source of this data are in my office,” e-mails Solomon.

Census officials give Posties some wiggle room for their discrepancies. Robert Bernstein, a Census public-affairs specialist, notes that recent “redefinitions” of metropolitan areas by the Office of Management and Budget have yielded new population stats.

Chances are that the Post isn’t going to bump Washington up to third place anytime soon. That’s because the wide-ranging market estimates have caught the attention of Sports editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, who is preparing a memo on the matter. Henceforth, says Garcia-Ruiz, baseball stories will call Washington the sixth-largest region by population in the country. Looks as if Fainaru won the market contest.

The new edict, however, will ban the word “market” from such descriptions, because that term comes loaded with confusing implications. For instance, says Garcia-Ruiz, broadcasters have certain ways of measuring the market that other industries—and the Census Bureau—don’t share. “It’s sort of comparing apples and oranges,” he says. “We’ve done it a number of different ways, and we’re endeavoring to correct it.” —Erik Wemple