No one in Baltimore watches the National Football League expansion derby more closely or with a sharper eye than Tony Agnone. He says this city is "a lock" to get in, probably for the 1994 season.
Agnone is the Baltimore-based agent for 47 NFL players including nine Pro Bowlers. Among his clients are Chip Lohmiller, Sean Landeta, Dave Meggett, Bart Oates and Ferrell Edmunds.
Moreover, Agnone is one smart lawyer. Before becoming an agent he was assistant to the dean at the University of Baltimore Law School.
"I think Baltimore is a lock now for the next expansion," says Agnone. "When the elected officials in Charlotte said they were not going to put any more money into the effort there, that they're not going to build a stadium for an NFL team, I figured that did it. St. Louis and Baltimore will get in.
"Baltimore and St. Louis have government financing for a new stadium. Without that, Charlotte fell far behind in the minds of the NFL owners."
Agnone has a positive view of the McNeil vs. NFL case now being heard in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Eight players seeking free agency, including the New York Jets' Freeman McNeil, are suing the league for antitrust violations.
"The players will win the case," Agnone says flatly. "The only way the owners can win is if the jury is totally confused.
"If the jury sees this as a money issue, the owners could win. But the judge will instruct the jury that this is an antitrust issue, not a money issue. The players will win on that basis.
"The damages are likely to be huge -- maybe $40 million to $50 million. But I believe the two sides will reach a settlement -- perhaps when the judge goes off to a conference July 13. The players will be granted free agency with some modifications.
"People in the league know that free agency is coming anyway. They're starting to accept that.
"Even if the owners lose the case, I think they'll go ahead with expansion now. The franchise fee is likely to be $125 million. That comes to nearly $9 million per club even with 28 teams."
Which of the three potential ownership groups does Agnone see being awarded the Baltimore franchise?
"People are warming up to Boogie Weinglass," he says. "I've only met Boogie twice so I don't know him well, but people in the league keep calling me to see what I think of him. I know they like him."
* There were lots of good bands in the July 4 parade in Towson Saturday, but only one that gave the crowd chills: the Baltimore Colt Marching Band. When the group reached Burke Avenue and York Road and struck up the Colts' fight song, it brought back a thousand wonderful memories to spectators who remember the glory years. What a shame that one man, Robert Irsay, was able to strip the city of something that was so important to it.
* It's easy for Orioles fans -- and who's not one these days? -- to become exasperated because the club failed to hit in the clutch and lost two out of three over the weekend in Minnesota, including one-run losses Saturday and yesterday.
I prefer to think what a gutsy job these O's did, going into the den of the defending world champions, winning one and taking the Twins to the wall in the other two. As Brooks Robinson said on the telecast Friday: "Johnny Oates is Manager of the Year if they take the vote now."
* My views on the U.S. Dream Team basketball blowouts are the same as those of Don Zimmerman, the lacrosse coach who won three national championships at Johns Hopkins and is now an assistant at Loyola College. Says Zimmerman, who retured from clinics in Japan in time to watch Magic Johnson & Co. double the score on teams in the Tournament of the Americas:
"When the U.S. beats a team by 70-some points, it's not even good sport. I hope this is a one-time thing, that by using the pros this time we're making a statement that we do have the best players in the world. Then, after these Olympics, we can go back to using the college guys."
* The first-ever major championship triumphs of Tom Kite in the U.S. Open and Andre Agassi at Wimbledon yesterday have nothing to do with parity. Kite and Agassi are among the best in their sports. Both were due to win a big one.