Boogie buys O's? The perfect gift

JOHN EISENBERT

December 13, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

Let's start with that first phone call. Is this beautiful or what?

Boogie Weinglass picks up the receiver. "Hello?" he says.

"Yes, um. It's Eli."

There is a pause. "What, the caterer? I paid you guys a month ago."

"No, no, the baseball owner. Eli Jacobs, the owner of the Orioles. Mr. Jacobs."

"Wait a minute. Let me get this right. You're calling me?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure this isn't a prank? This isn't really Shrevie, is it?"

"No, no. It's Mr. Jacobs. I've got a baseball team for sale."

"You do, huh? Well, you'll have to excuse me. I've got another appointment. Call my secretary."

Folks, it doesn't get any more delicious than this. Eli calling Boogie back. Crawling back to him, essentially, after refusing even to return his calls last year when he was ready to buy the Orioles.

If you pledge allegiance to "Diner" and all that it stands for about this town, you'll give the moment a standing ovation. Jacobs considered himself too big and too Wall Street even to recognize the local-boy-made-good a year ago. But now that Jacobs needs help . . .

Who says life is unfair?

Of course, the truth is that Jacobs and Boogie probably never have spoken, that their intermediaries are handling the sale talks reported in Friday's Sun. Big deal. As people are wont to say in this holiday season, it's the thought that counts.

And what a thought this is. Replacing the mercilessly bottom-line Jacobs with a City College grad who refuses to wear anything other than jeans, and says things like the fans deserve a good team. We've covered this ground before. Jeans in the owner's box, a ponytail in the owners' meetings, all that. Would you believe Larry Lucchino already is growing a ponytail?

It's all beautiful stuff, almost too good to be true.

But please, remember that Boogie has still not necessarily made his mind to buy the Orioles and abandon his pursuit of an NFL expansion franchise. The story being passed around town is that he hasn't made up his mind yet. He grew up with the Colts; football is the sport that tugs at his heart. But you can't blame him if he does go baseball. It makes sense.

In the first place, it's not certain that Baltimore will get a team even if the NFL does expand. And even if Baltimore did beat out Charlotte, Boogie's group is just one of three angling for ownership. That's hardly a sure thing. And we haven't even gotten to the biggest question mark of all: Whether the NFL ever will expand, even with a collective bargaining agreement.

By comparison, the Orioles are a bird in hand. (Pun intended.) They're not a concept, they're a team. A pretty competitive team. And a team that, in a nostalgic turn, currently is generating the kind of astonishing profits you might remember from the Gordon Gekko decade.

Owning an NFL team is also a profitable proposition, of course. But if all things are equal on the business side and Boogie is looking to have fun in the owner's box, this is not even a real choice. The Orioles would be much more fun.

We're talking about an expansion football team here. Expansion is a drag. You get that first thrill of existence, and then years and years of losing. The newest teams in the NBA have risen to playoff caliber in five years, but in basketball you only need a couple of big players. It's much harder to build in football. The Seahawks and Bucs were expansion teams 15 years ago. They're still expanding.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are a contender right now, and, with a spate of young pitchers, figure to keep things interesting for at least a few years. Throw in the new ballpark, and there aren't many teams in sports that would be more fun to own.

Now, if Boogie does go baseball, it might hurt the city's NFL bid at least a little. That's the downside. The NFL people like him. But losing him probably won't make a difference in the end. The Clancy and Glazer groups are sound, if a little more uptight. But, hey, the NFL likes uptight.

And anyway, at such a moment it's best not to get ahead of yourself. Let's take care of the team we've got before we worry about the one we don't have yet. The Orioles desperately need a new owner. With Jacobs owning them, the Orioles will always work the bargain racks. They'll never get the one big name that could deliver a title.

There is no guarantee that Boogie would, but it's a pretty good bet that he'd be a lot more willing to make the big move that needs to be made, and a lot less determined to relentlessly grab at the fans' wallets. Hey, he's one of 'em. Does it get any better than that?

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