Even a name player can't plug this hole

JOHN EISENBERG

November 15, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Should we get excited about the prospect of someone from Cleveland named Alfred Lerner joining Baltimore's expansion bid?

Absolutely. Positively.

As long as we're on a level playing field with St. Louis and the other cities, Alfred Lerner's arrival is important.

As long as the NFL is handling the expansion process without any semblance of deviousness or favoritism, Alfred Lerner's arrival is important.

In other words, as long as the tooth fairy exists and college basketball is clean and Paul Tagliabue has no agenda whatsoever and every politician in Washington is as earnest as Mr. Smith, the late addition of Alfred Lerner could prove decisive.

(For those readers in a hurry, here is the concise version: Lerner makes a difference if the entire city of St. Louis spontaneously combusts like the drummer in "This is Spinal Tap." Got it?)

The only truly substantive measure we could have undertaken to improve our chances would have been to move to St. Louis. Every last one of us, from the mayor down to the K-9 corps. We'd get a team for sure then.

But seeing as the Mayflower vans don't seem to be revving up, all we can do is contort ourselves while continuing the fruitlessness of trying to guess what 28 owners might want, as we wind down an endeavor during which we have jumped through a million hoops and they have made millions of dollars.

Having fun, campers?

Without question, Lerner's presence could have amounted to a knockout punch for Baltimore if this were a fair fight instead of the odious, underhanded business that it is. The only hole in our airtight bid is the owners' apparently lukewarm feelings for Boogie Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer. Lerner would cover that hole.

No, it's not fair that Boogie and Glazer get shoved aside after carrying the ball for so long. And no, there's no evidence that Lerner would make a better owner. Even if he did get his start in business here, and later bailed out Maryland National Bank, he does live in Cleveland, which, last time I checked, isn't Baltimore. And he is said to avoid publicity. So, let's see, that makes him a shy owner from out of town. Ring a bell, Orioles fans?

But anyway, for better or worse, we're just trying to get a team right now, and the owners are the ones who do the choosing, and Lerner is the kind of guy they would find more suitable than Boogie or Glazer. That's just a fact. It's not about money. It's just that he isn't a gamble.

He isn't a semi-loose cannon, self-avowed fan with a ponytail. He wouldn't buy the team and hand it over to his kids. He's just a big-shot banker. He fits the profile.

If he were a prospective owner in St. Louis, where the league wants to put a team, the deal would be done.

The ownership situation in St. Louis remains discombobulated, however, which is the only reason that Lerner's addition is any more important to the process than a comparison of the zoos in each city. (An apt analogy, if I do say so.)

See, nothing else matters if St. Louis gets its act together. We could have the pope as our owner, and the league would take St. Louis. It's all about geography, the unpatchable hole in our bid. The networks want the country's largest television market without a team. The league wants a bigger presence in the

Midwest, not the saturated East.

So much for fair play.

But considering that St. Louis continues to have problems, and there is still at least a remote possibility that this peculiar convention gets thrown wide-open in the end, the proprietors of Baltimore's bid, most prominently Gov. Schaefer, aren't wrong to try to better their offer. Why not?

That said, they had only one alternative. One place in their house that was suitable for tinkering. They couldn't improve the stadium deal. They couldn't make the lease any sweeter. The only spot they could upgrade was the ownership, where, though Boogie and Glazer had their constituencies among the owners, there clearly was some skepticism. Enough to warrant a change.

It means, of course, that Boogie gets insulted and hurt, and that's a shame. He genuinely tried to do the right thing for his hometown, and he's getting kicked around for it in the end. It isn't his fault that the owners, those paragons of virtue, weren't sure about him. Noogies to them.

But the point is that this is no longer about personalities or biographies or what is fair and just. The governor is just trying to get a team, and, like the CEO of a company angling for a big contract, he's doing his best to patch any holes, real or imagined, in his bid.

And the biggest shame of all is that there is one colossal hole that just can't be patched.

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