Own up to it: Local is still a gamble

JOHN EISENBERG

May 23, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

As the old saying goes, more or less: You can't tell the owners without a scorecard. Not in this town, at least.

What a week for the zany rich, huh? Tom Clancy drops out of the race for an NFL expansion team and joins the race for the Orioles. Boogie Weinglass stays in the NFL race, but also gets into the Orioles race, joining Clancy, formerly his NFL competitor. Peter Angelos emerges as a major player in the Orioles race and a minor player in the NFL race.

Talk about a toy hunt. If you can't keep it all straight, don't worry, you're not alone. There are only three people in town who can figure out if Barry Levinson has his hand in the football thing or the baseball thing or both. Don't ask me.

For those who don't have the time or energy to sit down and get it all straight, here is the capsule summary: Anyone once connected with Baltimore who has ever accomplished anything is now trying to buy a local team.

Coming soon to the headlines: Oprah to Bid for Birds.

If Edgar Allan "Take Me to the Poe Zone" were still alive, he'd be in there.

It's probably a stretch for John Waters to buy an NFL team. But that would be one interesting locker room, huh?

In any case, the end result of all this high-dollar hi-jinks is that the NFL race and the Orioles race have assumed identical lines. There are local groups and DOOTs (dreaded out-of-towners) trying to buy both.

The question is how much we should care who wins.

The natural instinct is to root for the local guys, of course. It's the patriotic thing to do, hon. And how could we feel otherwise? It's not like we've had any luck with our DOOTs. San Francisco got Eddie DeBartolo, who sank a fortune into the 49ers and won four Super Bowls. We got Bob Irsay, who left town at midnight, and Eli Jacobs, who wouldn't even pay for Joe Orsulak. We're certainly due.

There's no gamble with local guys. They're fans like you, just with much more expensive toys. They understand the mandate of ownership. They don't rip off the fans. They don't pocket all the profits when a right fielder is needed. They don't threaten to move the team.

That's the premise, at least. But is it the reality, too?

Yes, as far as moving a team. No local guy would do that. He'd have to sell his beloved house and move to some foreign burg, like Washington.

But listen, there's no need to be paranoid about that anymore. It's a dead issue. No one is going anywhere. To paraphrase Sally Field, they like us.

And as far as spending money to put the best possible teams on the field, we don't know for sure that the locals would be the best choice. No one knows. Because running a team today -- running it right, the way you would want -- isn't about citizenship. It's about money.

You have to have plenty. More than plenty. Enough to pay the colossal purchase price and still have some nickels lying around to buy Ruben Sierra.

There's nothing wrong with rooting for the local guys to win out, but what we really want, first and foremost, are owners with the money and commitment. Is that the local guys? Are they the ones with the most money? We don't know. We'd like to think so, but let's face it, we don't know.

It's one thing to say that you're going to be that kind of owner, but another thing altogether once it's your fortune invested and your iffy balance sheets and your money going to some sullen, over-hyped outfielder who has had one good year.

None of these groups, local or DOOT, has any track record on such essential matters. There is no guarantee, none, that the locals will spend more freely.

The DOOT baseball group from Cincinnati, led by Bill DeWitt Jr., comes with a long baseball pedigree. These guys understand the game. It's just a guess, but they would treat their ownership of the Orioles with respect.

As for the DOOT footballers, the Glazers, we have no idea.

There's reason to believe that Boogie would be the kind of owner to lay out the cash. He's that kind of guy. Angelos and Clancy? Again, we'd like to think we know the answer. But we don't know for sure.

The fact is that no matter which groups wind up with the teams -- and remember, there may not even be an NFL team -- we're just going to have to hope.

Because while you want to root for the local guys to make good, you have to root for the owners with the most ready cash and the right attitude, whoever they may be. In the end, it's more important to have interesting teams than interesting owners.

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