What if-- players bought their ballclub?


June 25, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

Let's forget about Boogie for a minute. Let's talk about another group of investors buying the Orioles.

The Orioles.

Cal, Gregg, Moose, the whole gang. Yeah. Imagine what would happen if they pooled their money and bought the club from Eli Jacobs, who has put up a for-sale sign.

Don't laugh. It isn't as preposterous as you think. Well, considering the Orioles' payroll, which is puny by baseball's steroid-inflated standards, it is indeed preposterous. But the finances wouldn't be so improbable elsewhere. Not improbable at all, in fact.

The Oakland A's, combined, will earn around $35 million this season. That's the game's highest payroll. It also is reportedly the amount of cash Jacobs put down when he bought the Orioles. He financed the rest.

So let's say the Orioles were still worth $70 million, as some teams are. Jose, Rickey, Eck and the A's would have no problem making the down payment. And with all those millionaires roaming the clubhouse -- more than a dozen -- they surely could arrange the financing.

They could buy the Orioles.

Maybe it is is a bit of a stretch right now, but don't miss the point: Baseball's salary escalation is creating a class of ultra-rich athletes capable of summoning the huge sums needed to, well, buy themselves.

(Certainly, if I were negotiating Cal Ripken's new contract, I would offer him a percentage of the team. It would be less than what he could rightfully demand of the Orioles in today's baseball economy, with him having the season he's having.)

You can almost see the day coming, can't you? Magic Johnson says he wants to buy a team. So does Walter Payton. And as wealthy as they are, they aren't making nearly what the top stars will make given another decade of salaries booming. (Future shock: Deion Sanders saying he wants to buy a team.)

So, it could happen. Let's say it did. Let's say, for the sake of discussion, that the Orioles did come up with the cash to make Jacobs an offer he couldn't refuse. What would happen if the players did indeed buy the team?

(I won't bring up the fact that baseball's leadership would move so quickly to prohibit such a development that they'd probably pull every muscle there is to pull.)

There would be positive developments, certainly. It would be the end of the lockouts and strikes that drag the game down. How could the players lock themselves out? It would be a gymnastic feat, not to mention a political one. And could they picket themselves? What would the picket-line placards say, "I'm a jerk, I'm a jerk"?

(Actually, it would be the first time in labor history that strikers literally told the truth when they carried signs saying "I play hardball.")

It also would be the end of thehumorless, money-mongering contract negotiations that fill up the winter. How could you negotiate with yourself? The entire process would resemble a "Monty Python" skit.

Cal Jr.: "I want $6 million a year."

Cal Jr.: "Can't have it."

Cal Jr.: "But it's my money."

Cal Jr.: "Mine, too."

Actually, the entire process of compensating players might have to be overhauled. The players might have to accept smaller salaries in lieu of a percentage of the profits. To me, the best idea would be to lock them all in a room, give them each a rubber chicken and let them haggle over how much each should make. If a player asks for too much -- pow, rubber chickens rain.

Talk about a sporting event I would pay to see.

Making trades would be a tricky business, too. I'm not sure the team could stand to employ a general manager. What if he tried to send someone to Rochester? The player could fire him for insubordination. No, I'm not sure a GM would work.

So, who would make trades? Maybe the richest player. Maybe a really, really smart Rotisserie League guy could be brought in. (I know, I know, the phrase "smart Rotisserie League guy" is redundant.)

In any case, it certainly would be difficult to trade a guy who owns the team. (Actually, if the Orioles were really smart, they wouldn't buy themselves. They would buy the Red Sox and trade Roger Clemens to Baltimore.)

Managing would be a tricky business, too. You couldn't really tell the players what to do -- they'd be your boss. They could tell you what to do, if you get the drift. It probably would be better to hire a positive-thinking shrink to run around patting backs and cooing that the team is "looking swell."

George Orwell wrote about all this, of course. The animals running the farm. An experiment in anarchy. It certainly would XTC make for a different brand of baseball than that to which we're accustomed. Here is some of what we could expect if the players set all the rules:

* Pro wrestling shown on DiamondVision throughout the game

* Booing fans arrested

* Young autograph-seekers locked in a corral behind the outfield fence until an hour after the last out

* Reporters not allowed within 15 feet of players

* Women in the clubhouse (phrase edited)

* Daily managerial review sessions

* Adult autograph-seekers strung upside down by their toes from mezzanine

* Pre-game workout optional

Come to think of it, we might be better off even with a Steinbrenner. Certainly a Boogie.

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