Pending local flavor will improve taste of things to come

BILL TANTON

September 23, 1993|By Bill Tanton

This is truly a time of transition in Baltimore sports. What you see now is not what you'll be getting a couple years from now.

The people who bought the Orioles last month -- led by Baltimore lawyer Pete Angelos -- may be officially approved by the other owners as early as next Monday or Tuesday.

The new people will make changes. You can bet on that. They're not paying $173 million to twiddle their thumbs and go with the status quo.

Not that the status quo is so bad. The much-maligned Eli Jacobs regime has produced a ballclub that enjoys tremendous profitability, sells out every night, and still is alive in the AL East race with a mere 10 games left. A lot of major-league clubs wish they were doing as well.

Angelos, who will call the shots, is an action guy. Staying close is not going to be good enough for his Orioles. It may not be good enough for the Baltimore sports fan either if a new NFL team comes here and competes for the sports dollar.

If we can believe the unbridled optimism of the Baltimore contingent that went to Chicago this week in quest of a franchise, we'll have a team here, playing in Memorial Stadium, in 1995.

"Baltimore's a lock," gushed Boogie Weinglass, leader of one of the two prospective ownership groups that met with the NFL expansion and finance committees. "We wowed 'em!"

One thing you have to remember about the irrepressible Boogie: He's a salesman, and a salesman, after making a pitch, always thinks his pitch is the best.

I had thought Baltimore's guarantee of $1 million to a visiting team playing here -- the league average is $500,000 -- would give our city a big edge.

The Jacksonville, Fla., people must have thought so, too -- so they topped it. They told the two committees a visiting team in Jacksonville would take home between $1.1 million and $1.4 million per game.

Don't worry about Jacksonville, though. That city was in the competition for a franchise, then out of it, and now is back in it. You can't win that way, as Ross Perot proved.

No matter what any other franchise seeker shells out to visiting teams, Baltimore's deal is the best financially for the owners-to-be here as well as the owners elsewhere.

Here, the state has stepped aside to guarantee that. The owners won't have to build a stadium; won't even have to pay rent. They'll get the profits from concessions, parking and signage. It's a sweetheart deal, which is why Baltimore is the only city with two groups vying to own the team.

The NFL won't award the two new franchises for another month. Herb Belgrad and the people who have worked for six years to get this city back in the NFL have done all the right things. If Baltimore is snubbed, shame on the NFL. Pure politics will have won out.

I get the feeling Baltimore will get a team, Boogie will be the owner, and Ernie Accorsi, who has spent 23 years in the NFL, will be a key guy in his front office.

Realigning the baseball front office will be a primary concern of Angelos and his partners.

The conventional wisdom is that Larry Lucchino, the Orioles president and CEO, will move on to the Florida Marlins, creating an opening for another of the new owners, Bill DeWitt, to become active in the baseball operation.

Also to be reorganized is the present unwieldy general manager triumvirate of Roland Hemond, Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson.

You can be sure there's some serious maneuvering going on in that area. There should be one GM, and Melvin seems to be the front-runner to end up with the job.

I would like to see Angelos bring in another Baltimorean to be his GM -- John Schuerholz, of the Atlanta Braves.

Schuerholz, who went to City College and Towson State, has done a tremendous job with the Braves, for whom he became GM in October of '90.

Never until Schuerholz joined the organization had the Braves been in a World Series. Since he got there, they haven't missed one -- and they look as if they'll be in another next month.

Before the '91 season Schuerholz brought in Terry Pendleton, Sid Bream, Otis Nixon and Deion Sanders. He signed '92 Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddox last winter, and in July he brought Fred McGriff to the Braves. That was the move that ignited Atlanta.

Who among us would not want to see two self-made Baltimoreans, Angelos and Weinglass, owning the local teams?

Things are changing, all right, hopefully for the better.

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