Hitting the Highway
Just as NFL players put themselves up for bid by opting for free agency, so has Los Angeles Ram owner Georgia Frontiere declared her team a free agent. In notifying the city of Anaheim last week of their intention to use an escape clause in their lease for Anaheim Stadium, the Rams in effect told the NFL: We may be moving, and there's nothing you can do about it.
And there isn't. The league has been losing antitrust cases for 35 years, and, should it challenge Frontiere, it would almost certainly lose this one as well. The loss would be expensive, as was the $51 million (reduced from an original judgment of $114 million) awarded former New England Patriot owner Billy Sullivan in another antitrust case, decided on Oct. 22.
Fittingly, the Sullivan case also looms over the New England franchise, whose owner, James Busch Orthwein, is threatening to sell to the highest bidder (page 74). Again, before the Sullivan verdict the league would have fought Orthwein, but now it seems disinclined to do so.
The Rams' decision to pursue free agency is rife with irony. When Al Davis sought to move his Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, the NFL had a rule preventing one franchise from moving into direct competition with another. That rule gave the Rams a veto over the Raiders' move, which the Rams exercised. Davis went to court and won an $18 million judgment, which the league was still paying in installments to the maverick owner as recently as 1990.
If the Rams do indeed move to Baltimore, it will be interesting to hear Frontiere's comments. She married former Baltimore Colt owner Carroll Rosenbloom in 1966, six years before trading the Colts to Robert Irsay for the Rams, and NFL insiders say part of the reason for the swap was Frontiere's desire to get out of Baltimore.
Conceivably, both the Rams and the Patriots could stay at home. There is talk of restructuring the Anaheim Stadium lease to make it more attractive to the Rams, and of fixing up the place, at a cost of as much as $100 million. And though Orthwein seems bent on selling, the Patriots could well end up with a local owner if a long-talked-about domed stadium is built in Boston. But it's more likely that the Rams and the Patriots, both of whom seem to need a change of environment to restore past glories, will hit the road, with Baltimore, Memphis and St. Louis—the three most recent expansion losers—ready to roll out the red carpet.
Harvey Haddix, who died of emphysema last week at age 68, will forever be remembered for the 12 innings of perfect baseball he threw for the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 26, 1959, arguably the best-pitched game in history. He eventually lost his masterpiece 1-0 on a Joe Adcock home run in the 13th. (Because Adcock passed Hank Aaron while running the bases, his drive officially became only a double.) Haddix once said: "Every single day I put on a uniform for the rest of my life, I was asked about the perfect game. Every single day."
No player should be made to feel he is failing his team by pursuing his Olympic dream, but that's just what happened to Derek Plante, the 23-year-old rookie center of the Buffalo Sabres. In September, Plante, who is from Duluth, Minn., and played the past four seasons for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, signed a contract under which he would play with the Sabres for three months before joining the U.S. Olympic team in mid-January. Plante scored 11 goals in Is first 20 games with Buffalo, but as of Sunday he'd had only three in his last 16. Still, Buffalo considers him a key to its playoff hopes. As the date of Plante's departure approached, Sabre management began pressuring him to skip Lillehammer. Team owner Seymour H. Knox met privately with Plante to add weight to earlier appeals by coach John Muckler and general manager Gerry Meehan.