'Boogie': a boy at heart--with $200 million


June 20, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

A dozen years ago, when Jerold Hoffberger first told the world he wished to sell his Baltimore Orioles, Harold Goldsmith telephoned his friend and business partner Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass.

In the process, he made two mistakes.

A) He called at 8 in the morning, when Boogie was most likely just arriving home from the previous night.

B) He suggested Boogie wear a coat and tie when they met with Hoffberger.

"Forget it," said Boogie. "No coat and tie."

"You can't go and embarrass me," said Harold.

"Then I'm not going," said Boogie, and he didn't.

A couple of years ago, Mr. Donald Trump of New York, then still in his financial chips, journeyed to Aspen, Colo., and fell in love with a place called Boogie's Diner, a combination eatery and clothing store invented and owned by Boogie Weinglass.

"I'd like to put one of these at my place," said Trump, meaning the Trump Tower, his glittery, gaudy, vertical shopping mall in Manhattan. "Call my secretary and we'll have a meeting."

"Don, Don," said Boogie, "we're getting off on the wrong foot. The Boog does not call secretaries."

When he finally met with Trump in New York, he wore black jeans, red lizard boots and his hair in a ponytail.

Last month, the queen of England came to America and watched a baseball game. She sat with the owner of the Orioles, Eli Jacobs, who has since announced he wishes to sell his ballclub. Boogie Weinglass wishes to buy it. The imagination soars at a slightly different timing that might have had the queen of England blind dating The Boog.

"Yeah, it would have been beautiful," Boogie was saying yesterday. He was in Ocean City, building sand castles in the air. "I'd have been cordial and nice, but I'd be me. You know, for the queen, I'd have my boots or my tennis shoes. Hey, I don't own anything but boots and tennis shoes."

He's being modest. He has more than 600 Merry-Go-Round clothing outlets that will do about $800 million in sales this year, and there are estimates that his personal assets are somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million.

It's been a long, exhilarating, roller coaster ride from Violet Avenue off lower Park Heights Avenue to heart-to-heart talks with Eli Jacobs and the J. P. Morgan investment-banking people.

Jacobs says he wishes a change of life. Owning the Orioles, he says, leaves him no time for reading. In The City That Reads, this sort of gesture might be applauded, except that Jacobs' reading seems to consist largely of ledger books.

Quality baseball players cost a lot of money these days, and Jacobs, in lieu of spending very much, has watched his baseball team take a nose dive. The team isn't much fun. Jacobs has many other business ventures to pursue. He's a very serious man.

Boogie Weinglass is a serious businessman with a lot of boy in him as well. At the heart of baseball, there is still a game played by people running about and yelling words such as, "Way to chuck 'em in, babe."

To Boogie Weinglass, this is a siren call. Always, he's lived a life on the edge. As a high school kid at CityCollege, where he matriculated between sessions at Knocko's poolroom and the Hilltop Diner, Boogie was the one to see if you needed a blank report card or a football pool.

Once, he was booking football bets when George Young, City's massive football coach, came up behind him and grabbed him by the back of his neck.

"What do you think you're doing?" Young inquired without delicacy.

"Just trying to make a living," explained Boogie.

Now, more than 30 years later, Boogie looks back at that distant time and says, "Look, I was a healthy, crazy kid growing up. Didn't have any money. Made a few bets. But you go through stages in your life, and you move on.

"Believe me, those days are longover. I'm as clean as could be. Look, my company's on the New York Stock Exchange. You don't think they checked me out? I was really scrutinized by those people."

At the heart of his urge to buy the Orioles is more than money. It's something about conducting a life asmore than a series of business deals.

His brother Eggy died in a car accident. His old partner, Harold Goldsmith, died in a plane crash a few months back. A family friend died of cancer at 52. Behind the carefree face with the ponytail is a man who counts days.

"I don't want to die with $200 million in my pocket," he said yesterday. "Money was never my thing; I was just lucky enough to make a lot of it."

Friends tell stories behind his back that sound like movie scenarios. When he was living at an apartment building on University Parkway, Boogie found a woman in the lobby who couldn't pay her rent and was being evicted.

Boogie paid her rent. He paid it every month for the next 12 years, until the woman died.

Today, there are several women in their 80s who were friends of hismother's. Boogie pays their rent and their phone bills. He hasn't forgotten his own hard times on Violet Avenue.

Nine years ago, at the Senator Theatre on York Road, Boogie watched the premiere of "Diner," Barry Levinson's love song to ++ the old Hilltop Diner and 1950s Baltimore. Today, Levinson says he'd like to join Boogie in purchasing the Orioles.

And there's a moment in the movie, and that premiere night, that hangs in the air. It's the scene where the actor Mickey Rourke, playing the youthful Boogie, drives out to Green Spring Valley and sees a rich girl on a horse.

At the Senator Theater, the real Boogie watched the scene, turned to a guy next to him and said: "That can't be true. I was never north of Belvedere Avenue in my life."

He's come a long way since then.

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