Weinglass: City needs to take the local on NFL trip

September 27, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,Evening Sun Staff

"Diner Guy" that he is, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass doesn't mince words. He not only wants his group to own Baltimore's NFL expansion franchise, he says, "I don't see any reason why the team shouldn't go to us. We deserve it, plain and simple."

Weinglass, reached yesterday at his home in Aspen, Colo., spoke passionately about the need for local ownership, insisting that out-of-towners such as the Malcolm Glazer family should not be allowed by the NFL to purchase the team.

The NFL is not expected to place special emphasis on local ownership when it selects its two expansion franchises for 1994, but Weinglass said he has put together a "phenomenal" group of six local investors, all with deep ties to the community, and all with deep pockets.

"Ever since we've had outside ownership, you've seen what has happened to our major-league teams -- one's gone and the other's a nightmare," Weinglass said, referring first to the Colts, then the Orioles.

"Our six people are all true Baltimoreans, all do-gooders for the community. I don't think it's fair for someone to come in and own a Baltimore franchise that hasn't given one dime to the community. It isn't fair. It isn't ethical. If it's done, shame, shame, shame on the people who make it happen."

Weinglass, 49, said he would maintain a controlling interest of approximately 60-65 percent if awarded the franchise. Merry-Go-Round Chief Executive Officer Michael Sullivan would own 10 percent, and Duty Free International CEO David Bernstein another 10 percent.

The remaining shares would be divided by moviemaker Barry Levinson, real estate investor Richard Pearlstone and C-Mart founder and president E. Douglas Carton. Weinglass said the percentages were not "etched in stone," and left open the possibility of additional investors.

Each member of the group maintains a Baltimore residence, Weinglass said, and all but Weinglass and Levinson live here year-round. Weinglass said he visits six to seven times a year, and also has a home in Ocean City. Levinson resides mostly in southern California.

Weinglass said he has tried to attract minority investors, even making a pitch to comedian Bill Cosby, but thus far has found no interest. The prospect of former NFL running back Walter Payton as a part-owner is expected to enhance St. Louis' chances of landing a team.

"It doesn't seem like anyone wants to step forward," Weinglass said. "It's an overly phony thing to get minorities just to make the group look good. We've got one Irishman and a lot of Jews. But it's not a closed issue. If someone steps forward, we'll be glad to include them."

Weinglass' group is one of four from Baltimore expected to file $100,000 application fees with the NFL on Tuesday. Author Tom Clancy, a Baltimore native, and Phyllis Brotman, a Baltimore advertising agency executive, head the two other local groups.

The outside group consists of the Glazers, who reside all over the country -- Malcolm in Palm Beach, Fla., and his sons Bryan and Joel live in Chicago and Washington, respectively. The family has said it could pay cash for the franchise even if the cost is $150-200 million.

That seemingly makes it the front-runner, but Weinglass attacked that notion, charging, "They're not Baltimoreans. What is this, a wealth contest?" He said his group was "as wealthy as any of them. We have substantial net worth, probably as much as anybody."

Asked if his group could produce $150 million in cash, Weinglass said, "Absolutely. But it's stupid to say that, because it raises the price of a franchise. The owners read this stuff. God, why don't you just come out and say you could pay $250 million?"

Weinglass said he spent five days in Baltimore last week organizing his partners, the last of whom to join was Bernstein. He met two weeks ago with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, and also has spoken with members of the Greater Baltimore Committee and Maryland Stadium Authority.

In addition, Weinglass said he already has received encouragement from a "couple" of NFL owners he did not identify. "They know me. They know the group. They were very nice," he said. "I'm not going to have a problem with them. I'm a legitimate guy."

Weinglass, however, would not be a typical NFL owner. He fancies a ponytail and tight blue jeans, and for reasons that are not known, Orioles owner Eli Jacobs would not even meet with him after he announced his intention to bid for the club in June.

"He would not return a phone call, pure and simple," Weinglass said. "I'm very upset about it. I don't understand it. I think it's wrong. But the man would not come to the telephone. He made it known he wanted to sell. I made it known I wanted to buy."

It is possible Weinglass' maverick image and past gambling also will hurt his chances with NFL owners, but he said he is a changed man. "I was wild growing up," he said. "But I worked my butt off to get where I am in life. I didn't get 800 stores being a screw-up.

"As far as the gambling goes, that's exaggerated. I didn't make any bets after 1980. And before that, it was in a casino. That's a bad rap, even unethical, for people to bring that up. I don't gamble. I'm a family man," said Weinglass, who is married with three children. "And I've built a large corporation. You don't do that by being a gambler."

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