Baltimore deserves team owners a city can be proud of

JOHN STEADMAN

April 23, 1993|By JOHN StEADMAN

How pleasing it would be for Baltimore to have ownerships in baseball and football that bring pride to a city worthy of exemplary representation. The record shows Baltimore's worst moments have come when the teams were owned by men from other places.

Not that being a Baltimore-born citizen guarantees proper leadership of a sports franchise. That's not the point. It can't be predicated on provincialism. Just because you're an investor from Baltimore doesn't bring with it competency or fair treatment of the ticket-buyers.

It's not that an owner figures in game strategy, scouts personnel or takes the field in uniform to play a position. His true responsibility is to make the public comfortable and confident in the operation, especially that he is not taking advantage of the fans by charging unfair prices for tickets and concessions.

There's not much else required of an owner. It doesn't take unusual intellect or even an understanding of the fine points of the games. General managers in the front office and managers on the field make the vital decisions. Owners are required, but in most cases are a necessary evil.

Like the athletes they hire, most of them are well-intentioned, first-rate individuals. Some are mediocre and others, a comparative few, inherently rotten. The Orioles have had owners of varied descriptions, even one who wanted to be a U.S. Senator. We've known them all, for better or worse. Of course, they felt the same about a certain sportswriter.

As for football in Baltimore, when the late Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had a farm in Winfield, Md., addressed the situation of ownership, he said, "You're lucky that town is still standing after what Rosenbloom and that fellow Irsay did to Baltimore."

He was talking about Carroll Rosenbloom, the Colts owner from 1953 to 1972, and Robert Irsay, who followed Rosenbloom and lasted through 1983. It was Irsay who took the team away under the cover of darkness and located it in a city called Indianapolis.

In that memorable conversation, Rooney was reminded he forgot one other -- Abe Watner, who sold the Colts franchise back to the NFL in 1950 after a year of bizarre ownership for $50,000.

This meant the full player roster, including future Hall of Famers Y. A. Tittle and Art Donovan, was distributed to the 12 other league teams.

Watner literally did not know a lineman from a fullback, yet was at the controls. It was unfortunate because he was inept and totally miscast. He owned Meadowridge Memorial Park (a cemetery), which he called "a development of underground bungalows."

It was Rosenbloom who dumped the Colts in the lap of Irsay so he could "trade" for the Los Angeles Rams, a team that made a lot more money. The irony is Rosenbloom paid just $13,500 for the Colts and that figure, quite possibly, came from the club's treasury, which had been started by the fans who put up $300,000 in advance ticket money to bankroll the team's start.

Baltimore deserved much better than to be exploited by an owner who got the team for a song and looked for every way to make a profit at the expense of the customers. Then he turned it over to a buyer, Irsay, who was a disaster.

Too bad there's not an eight-year limit on owning a team, just as it is with being governor of Maryland and president of the United States. It would be a plus for sports, not only in Baltimore but the entire country, if such a policy applied.

This reporter, first as a fan, goes back to the Baltimore Orioles of minor-league vintage -- the International League in baseball, the Dixie League in football and the Eastern League in ice hockey. There was a time, oddly enough, when all three teams were known as the Orioles. The football club was officially tagged the Bluebirds, but that made no difference. Fans still called them the Orioles.

In that prolonged period of time, which represents most of our life, there have been all types of owners -- good, bad and indifferent. The Orioles had the best of it. They had some honest and caring owners, headed by Jim Keelty, Zanvyl Krieger and Jerry Hoffberger, but we dealt with some others through the years who, to put it discreetly as possible, proved to be congenital or habitual liars.

Baltimore, because of its superlative support of sports, deserves only the best in team ownerships.

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