Steve Martin's movie, "The Jerk," is not the life story of Jerry Hoffberger, nor was it suggested by the blatherings of Robert Irsay. Martin's jerk gets incredibly wealthy by inventing Opti-Grabs, a device that keeps glasses from sliding down your nose. Among other tacky things, Martin's jerk paints his swimming pool purple. What he should have done is buy a baseball or football team. Such ownership is proof certain of jerkdom.
Walter Dilbeck was a dashing figure with swept-back black hair glistening like gun metal and a pencil-thin mustache so meticulously groomed it seemed painted on. By his accounting, Dilbeck was a war hero whose career had been the subject of a movie. He was, he said rich with real estate in southern Indiana. And he had a dream. A big dream. A global dream. The Global Baseball League, to be exact.
For his franchise in Tokyo, Dilbeck envisioned a seventh-inning stretch led by dancing geisha girls in kimonos matching the home team's uniforms. Other world centers in the league would be Mexico City, Havana, Los Angeles and naturally, Louisville. No league could be Global without the heart of the universe. Anyway, Dilbeck came to Louisville to announce his gift to mankind.
We laughed like crazy.
Dilbeck not only wanted to take major league baseball around the world, he wanted to clean up the game's morals. A Global League contract, he said, would call for a player to be in bed, alone, by 10 p.m., drink nothing stronger than milk and smoke nothing stronger than cornsilk.
This time we really laughed.
With those ground rules, the Global League would sign up only little old ladies in tennis shoes.
"Dilbeck is a comedian of such great natural talent that not even he knows how funny he is," one stunned witness wrote in the local paper, prompting Dilbeck to make a midnight call to the writer's home with a punch-your teeth threat. He sounded like a man who had drunk too much milk while sitting beside his purple pool.
Today's question is: Does Robert Irsay have a purple pool?
He has a football team, the Baltimore Colts, and he has millions of dollars, and gall by the millions of gallons.
I am amazed every time I see Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.
Not that it is a beautiful piece of architecture. Kids at the beach do better with wet sand.
I am amazed the place is not in flames.
The people of Baltimore have put up with a ton of jerks. And because they love baseball and football they won't burn down Memorial Stadium in protest of what Hoffberger and Irsay do to them.
Hoffberger owns the Baltimore Orioles and is rich in beer, though it would not be surprising if he has a purple-pool painting business on the side. For nearly 20 years now, he has plotted around, connived against, threatened and teased the people of Baltimore. If they don't shape up, he has said, he will sell the Orioles and who knows where they will go?
I reread "Veeck - as in Wreck" the other night. Bill Veeck's autobiography revealed that in 1961 Hoffberger was ready to quit the Orioles and join the wealthy lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, in putting a team in Washington when Cal Griffith took his carpetbag to Minnesota. But at the last moment, Hoffberger decided to stay in Baltimore.
Here it is, 1979, and Hoffberger now is trying to sell the Orioles to Williams. Of course, that is only a rumor. After 20 years of this Hoffbderger tease, newspapers might be better off reporting who Hoffberger is not trying to sell to.
BALTIMORE , June 13 - Jerold Hoffberger announced today he will never sell the Baltimore Orioles to Indiana real estate man Walter Dilheck who would move the team to Terre Haute, where everyone goes to bed, alone, before 10 o'clock.
This spring, a group of Baltimoreans seeking to buy the Orioles from Hoffberger asked the state of Maryland to give the Orioles $250,000 each of the next five years. Common sense prevailed, though, and the state said it had no business subsidizing private enterprise.
The emotional blackmail that team owners use against cities is reprehensible. Many operate in stadia built with taxpayer's money on taxpayers' land, paying only minimal rent to run a multimillion-dollar business. They get away with the scam by convincing the people - who really need little convincing, so pervasive is the love of sports in this country - that the team enhances the city's quality of life.
Then, when the owner has the city's heart in his hand, he squeezes. Gimme a tax break. Gimme $250,000 a year. Gimme a domed stadium.Gimme, gimme or I'm taking my ball and going home.
Would someone tell me how Robert Irsay ever made enough money to buy a professional football team if he runs his air conditioning business the way he runs the Baltimore Colts?
He fired one coach, Howard Schnellenberger, on the sideline because the coach wouldn't take the suggestion of a fifth-string quarter-back from the University of Illinois. That fifth-stringer came to the side-line and told Schnellenberger to change quarterbacks. The coach refused. The fifth-stringer's name was Robert Irsay. He fired the coach.
Two years later the Colts' new coach, Ted Marchibroda, resigned because he didn't like the front-office interference of Irsay and General Manager Joe Thomas. The resignation lasted two days, with Irsay promising to give Marchibroda breathing room.
"Put Thomas and Jerk-say on waivers," said a fan's sign in Memorial Stadium.
Irsay's latest madcap advaenture involves the emotional blackmall he has practiced before. If he doesn't get what he wants - a $60-million stadium? 25 acres of downtown Baltimore? three free dinners at Johnny Unitas' Golden Arm restaurant? - Irsay says he will move the Colts to Los Angeles.
He can't do it, primarily because Los Angeles doesn't want him after he admitted using L.A. last winter to force Baltimore to build a training camp for the Colts. Also, the NFL won't let the Colts move, either.
I have an idea.
BALTIMORE, June 13 - Indiana real estate man Walter Dilbeck today bought both the Baltimore Colts and Baltimore Orioles in a $35-million deal featuring the stipulation that the previous owners, Jerold Hoffberger and Robert Irsay, leave town by sundown. Much of the $35 million was raised by volunteer firemen who solicited drivers in long gas lines. CAPTION: Picture, Robert Irsay