Baseball in trouble? Call Ross Perot

June 20, 1994|By Tom Nugent

YOUR newspaper reported not long ago that the average cost for a family of four to attend an Orioles baseball game at Camden Yards is now $108.50.

So I called Ross Perot.

Imagine my surprise when the billionaire sometimes presidential candidate answered on the first ring.

"This is Perot," he snapped. "Talk to me!"

Elated by the way my call had gone straight through to Mr. Bigbucks, I blared excitedly in his ear: "Mr. Perot, I'm calling from Baltimore.

"I need your help, sir!"

There was a pause on the other end.

I could hear the wheels turning, as one of the top financial analysts of our time mulled my request.

"Let me guess," he barked after a few seconds. "You're in the middle of a leveraged buyout, and you need some bargaining muscle. Are you part of the consortium that's been trying to acquire Westinghouse?"

"No, sir," I explained. "That's another group. Actually, my project is much larger, much riskier than that."

"No kidding!" He gave a low whistle; the fiscal titan was obviously impressed.

"Don't tell me," he boomed louder now, as his curiosity swelled. "You're involved in that hush-hush deal to buy out all of GM's North American operations."

I chuckled. "Come on," I urged the Texas money mogul, "you gotta think bigger than that! Why, the deal I have in mind makes that GM thing look like a kiddie lemonade stand!"

"Wow!" I heard him slap the table in his Dallas high-rise office. "Why didn't you tell me . . . you're directing the Disney takeover, right?"

"Wrong again, sir. I asked you to think big." I braced myself, and took a deep breath.

Then: "This is strictly off the record, Mr. Perot -- but I'm seriously contemplating the possibility of taking the wife and kids to an Oriole game."

I heard him gasp -- twice.

"My God," he muttered after recovering from the shock.

"Do you realize the scope, the size, the monstrous complexity of what you're taking on?"

"I do."

"Do you understand that you'll be moving in a financial arena dominated by ruthless sharks? By club owners who make tens of millions of dollars each year from ticket price-gouging . . . and by super-wealthy ballplayers -- like that famous what's-his-name, Ripken -- who can command $30 million contracts, merely

because they know how to smack a baseball around?"

"I do." Now I struggled to keep my voice steady, as the enormity of the enterprise sank in. "Mr. Perot, I'm well aware of the dangers I face. I've done my homework, sir, and I'm certainly not naive.

"I've scouted out that brand-new Camden Yards stadium that everybody's so proud of -- and there's no doubt it's crawling with rip-off artists, with con-men of every sort!

"For example: I bought a couple of hot dogs and a few beers there just the other night. I handed the guy a twenty, and I waited for my change."

Here I paused for full, dramatic effect.

"Mr. Perot, there wasn't any change!"

He gasped again, and when he finally spoke, his voice contained a new note -- a note of authentic fear.

"I'm afraid I can't help you, Son. You're playing way over my head on this one! No, there's only one man who can advise you now . . . a really big-dollar guy who operates out of Washington."

"For this kind of enterprise, you gotta talk to the top money-man . . . the guru whose fingers pull all the strings.

"Hang on -- I'll get you Dan Rostenkowski's phone number."

Tom Nugent teaches journalism at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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