Getting gleeful about the deal that keeps Cal

Dan Rodricks

August 26, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

*TC I'm as happy as a sea gull in a Dumpster full of day-old doughnuts. A lot of people are.

All over Baltimore yesterday, men climbed out of bed, turned to ** their wives, scratched their bellies and said: "Honey, I'm as happy as a sea gull in a Dumpster full of day-old doughnuts."

And it's all because of the Cal Deal.

Toll collectors at the Bay Bridge -- I haven't spoken with any, but I bet they're happy about it, too.

Cabdrivers, waitresses who make $2.05-an-hour-plus-tips, short-order cooks, the neighborhood bartender and the girl next door -- come to think of it, I haven't spoken with any of them, either. But I know that, deep in their hearts, they are all gushy and gleeful about Cal signing a new contract.

Maybe now he can put another wing on his house.

"I'm surprised at you," a crusty old gent said recently. "You favor this baseball man gettin' all these millions of dollars. What about the poor people? What about the libraries?"

What about them?

I had to inform Mr. Crusty that Cal was not on the public payroll, that the money in question -- the guaranteed $30.5 million package announced Monday night -- would go to either the Orioles or to Cal.

And, given the choice, who would you rather see get the Big Green Paper? No. 8 or Eli Jacobs?

"I think it's obscene," Mr. Crusty said.

Chill, baby. Cal is just getting his piece of the pie, a pie he helped bake.

In an ideal world, poor people and underfunded library systems would get more money. In the perfect world, we'd have a state government that would devote as much attention to dire social problems as it did to keeping Oriole management happy. "The City That Reads" would mean something.

But, as we have learned the hard way in Baltimore, owners of sports franchises are ruthless. They play hard ball.

One took a football team out of Baltimore. Another refused to sign a long-term lease until the state built him a new stadium.

And sure, it's a shame that we spent a couple of hundred million dollars to provide this privately held baseball team a new public place to do business, especially at a time when many other deserving programs went begging for dough.

And sure, we already had a municipal baseball stadium on 33rd Street that satisfied most baseball fans.

And I know, I know. We never got to vote the new stadium up or down. The powers that be fought a referendum right out of court.

But we elected the men and women in the state legislature who authorized funding the stadium. We elected -- by landslide, I might add -- William Donald Schaefer. His first order of business as a pro-business governor was two-fold -- making sure the Orioles had a new ballpark and that the Governor's Mansion had new drapes.

Over and done with. Finito! New ballpark. New drapes.

If you are, like Mr. Crusty, still grumbling, still swimming in the bitter slush of the way Edward Bennett Williams gently strong-armed the state and city into building a new stadium on the south side of the city, I guess the Cal Deal strikes you as obscene. (You probably don't like the new ballpark, either; in fact, you probably think the Bay Bridge was a bad idea.)

But the rest of us -- that is, people who have accepted reality, the Jaundiced and the Jaded -- are as happy as sea gulls in a Dumpster full of day-old doughnuts.

Why?

Because signing Cal was what we wanted the Orioles to do -- even if he's batting under .250.

He's Cal. Understand? Do you get it? He's Cal. He's a good guy. He's well-liked. He's respected. If he smiled a little more, he'd be Brooks II. He's from Maryland. He grew up watching the Orioles. He still lives here. He has a house people gawk at. So far, he has not embarrassed us or made us ashamed. It's all a very beautiful thing.

In my book, the Orioles owed us this.

The new ballpark, which we paid for, made the Orioles more accessible to people from the District of Columbia, Howard and Montgomery counties. And that turned the franchise into a Baltimore-Washington franchise, which is a tremendously lucrative market.

The Orioles are going to make gobs of money. They play in a place that is as much tourist attraction as ballpark. They will enjoy huge crowds even if this successful 1992 season turns out to be a fluke and 1993 ends up being 1988 all over again.

Eli Jacobs has a pretty good thing here.

He did not have to sign Cal. He could have let him pack his bags and go gently into that Willy Lomanesque night of free agency. It would not have mattered. People still would have come. For every longtime, Baltimore-in-the-blood fan who would boycott games, there'd be a Washington interloper leaning out the window of his BMW to buy a ticket from a scalper.

Signing Cal was the final character test for the men calling the shots in the Oriole organization.

They passed. They signed Cal. And who cares for how much anymore? He's the most popular player. And the fans want him here. We got what we wanted.

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