'Boogie's' quest for a sports team is all about fun

MICHAEL OLESKER

December 15, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Baseball, football, what's the difference? This business of Leonard ''Boogie'' Weinglass buying a baseball team called the Orioles or a football team not currently called the Colts isn't about business at all.

It's about notions we once connected to the playing of sports but lately have forgotten: notions of extending youth indefinitely, of living a life and not a negotiation, of sitting in the stands with a ballgame inside your head instead of a bottom line.

If this sounds like naivete talking, then you haven't paid attention to the story of Weinglass, who could make better money elsewhere, and already has. He could move strictly with the men in suits, but chooses otherwise. He wants to buy a ballclub, and the reasons are computed in joy and not merely dollars.

In the coming days, while waiting for the National Football League to make up its mind about expansion, he will find out if Eli Jacobs wishes to sell his baseball club to him, or to someone else.

Jacobs presides over a financial empire that has suffered some serious health problems in recent months. Selling the Orioles could help that empire get well again, and so this time, as opposed to a year ago, he is dead serious.

Meanwhile, the NFL stumbles toward a semblance of labor peace, which in turn sets off the possibility of expansion. Baltimore is a possibility. If Baltimore gets a team, then Weinglass is a possible owner. In both cases, the emphasis is on the possibility part.

Baseball, football, what's the difference? Years ago, when Boogie Weinglass was first learning the taste of big money, he joined a wealthy country club here and learned an important lesson.

''There were all these rich people there,'' he remembered one afternoon several years back, ''and not one of them knew how to enjoy their money. Their lives were wrapped about making more money, instead of enjoying it. And I told myself, 'That's never gonna be me.' "

In August, when Baltimore rolled over for an NFL exhibition game, Weinglass and one of his prospective partners, the movie director Barry Levinson, drove to Memorial Stadium. They were like two kids, looking around the stands and reliving the athletic religions of their youth.

Inside the Miami Dolphins locker room, equipment managers were arranging uniforms for that night's game, and here were these two vastly wealthy men, Weinglass and Levinson, giddy in the presence of those who arrange shoulder pads for a living.

Life has to be more than money. In the locker room, they remembered watching the Colts of three decades ago, and needled each other.

''I don't want to say Barry was rich,'' Boogie said, ''but his family had tickets. I had to climb over the fence in back of left field and sneak in through that tunnel back there. I was in high school then.''

''High school?'' said Levinson. ''This is a guy who graduated high school at 21. We figured he was getting his doctorate in high school.''

That August night the two men sat up in Wild Bill Hagy's old baseball section and watched the football exhibition.

All through the game, fans approached them for autographs. Elsewhere, you could hear the chant, ''Give Boogie the Ball.''

But football owners, who once seemed poised to expand, have since put the process on hold while they worked out labor troubles.

There is talk now of reopening expansion possibilities, but it comes as Eli Jacobs looks to bail out of baseball.

Baseball, football, what's the difference to Boogie Weinglass? It's not the money, and it's not even the sport that matters most. He wants the fun out of life.

He's rich enough to hold onto his youth, which is what sports is supposed to be all about.

''I'm not looking to buy a ballclub to make money,'' he said one night, several months back. ''I mean, I don't want to lose money, but money ain't the main thing. Look, I'm 51 years old. I play softball three times a week, in a league where people slide and have fistfights. I still play full court basketball.

''What am I gonna do, be like one of these suits who die with all their money in the bank, these guys with a hundred million who get on the phone Monday mornings and start screaming at people so they can make another $5 million? What for?

''A hundred percent of this is about fun, and that's all. I'm Boogie. I'm not gonna change.''

On those grounds: baseball, football, what's the difference? Just: Somebody, play ball.

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