Peter Baralic's return to the Washington Diplomats is a strange story, a story of a man who decided his family's happiness was more important than his continuing to play soccer.
By selling Baralic, a 29-year-old Yugoslavian midfielder, to the Tulsa Roughnecks on July 7 for an estimated $100,000, Diplomat management thought it was solving three problems.
The money from the sale would help pay for newly arrived Johan Cruyff's salary and make room in the midfield for the incomparable Dutchman. Also, the Dips had to get rid of one foreign player to get down to the NASL limit of 13.
"There's no way Baralic, Cruyff and David Bradford can play in the same midfield," Duncan Hill, the Diplomat general manager, said the day of the sale. "Somebody had to go."
But Baralic changed management's plans. He refused to report to Tulsa saying he would return to Yugoslavia before playing for the Roughnecks.
Having heard that Baralic was so happy in Washington, Tulsa General Manager Noel Lemon made the sale conditional on Baralic's reporting. "Peter Baralic will never play here," Lemon said Friday night. "We've tried to contact him several times, but he's never extended us the courtesy of a return phone call."
Hill had also learned that Baralic was refusing to report to Tulsa, so he knew the Dips would not receive the $100,000 for the sale.
Tulsa, which has traded two players to make room for Baralic, couldn't sell or trade him because the July 7 transaction deadline had passed. But the league office ruled the negation of the deal would be retroactive to July 7, meaning Baralic could play for the Dips again this season.
So Baralic, the team captain, started Sunday at forward in the loss against Montreal. He assisted on both Washington goals, scored by Bradford, and was one of the few Dips to play well as the team dropped into third place, five points behind Montreal. He received an ovation when introduced before the game.
"I know this whole thing is strange but I'm so happy," Baralic said in a telephone conversation late Saturday night. "I just didn't want to go to Tulsa.
"My family wanted to stay here in Washington. My wife and child just came here a month ago from Yugoslavia. I just bought (a condominium) in Virginia 35 days ago. If I had gone to Tulsa that would have made four cities for me during the last year: Tampa, Detroit, Washington and Tulsa.
"It just couldn't do that to my family . . . Right now, my family comes before my soccer. I'm sorry for Tulsa. It wasn't meant to hurt them. I love this club and this city . . . I've been loyal, haven't I?"
Hill said yes. "The alternative to putting Peter back on the roster was to fine and suspend him." Hill said. "But Peter has tried so hard and done so much for this franchise, that it didn't seem fair to do that. What we had was a business deal.
"But feelings have played a far more important part than anyone could expect. After talking to him Saturday, I could sympathize with his situation. I also received 10 letters from fans telling us to get Peter back."
But with Baralic back on the roster, Washington management is confronted with the same problems it had before Hill worked the deal with Tulsa.
"The problems still exist," Hill said. "When Eddie Colquhoun (the Scottish player/assistant coach) comes off the disabled list this week (from gout) we'll be one player over the foreign player limit again. Either Eddie will have to remain disabled for the rest of the year or we'll have to release somebody."
Cruyff suffered what a medical therapist called a common groin pull Sunday against Montreal. John Romero of the Sports Medicine Center in Chevy Chase said Cruyff took yesterday off but was much improved from Sunday. Cruyff will begin "easy therapy" today at the Center