- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

They love their sports, celebrities do. Some even leave the safety of their courtside seats to become owners. Jon Bon Jovi is one of the bosses of an Arena Football League club, the Philadelphia Soul. Bill Murray has a piece of a minor league baseball team, the Charleston RiverDogs. The late John Candy, Canadian born and bred, once bought into the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.

Not all celebrity sports owners wind up in the winner’s circle, though — the way David Letterman did at the Indianapolis 500. Ever hear about Pat Boone’s not-so-excellent adventure in professional basketball?

This was in 1969, the early days of the ABA (the league that gave us the Pacers, Spurs, Nuggets and Nets). Boone, a pretty good playground player, became involved with the Oakland Oaks — Rick Barry’s club — and one day made the mistake of co-signing a blank check to cover the Oaks’ losses. Ken Davidson, the team’s principal owner, told him “the check would be for about $250,000 to pay off the current debt,” Boone recalls in “Loose Balls,” Terry Pluto’s oral history of the ABA. “He said he couldn’t remember the amount; it would be either $245,000 or $251,000.”

The figure, as it turned out, was $1.3 million. But then Davidson announced he was broke, and the entire debt — which eventually rose to more than $2 million — became Boone’s cross to bear. “I said something about it all being in the hands of God,” says Pat, “and a sharp businessman I know said, ‘No, Pat, it’s in the hands of the Bank of America.’”

Before Pat Boone, there was Bing Crosby. Crosby not only played host to a golf tournament and owned scores of racehorses, he also had a slice of two baseball teams at the same time — the Pirates and Tigers. (His share of the Detroit club was so small that commissioner Ford Frick decided to overlook the obvious conflict of interest.) Having an owner like Bing came in handy for the Pirates. In 1947, for instance, when they acquired Hank Greenberg in a trade, he cut a record with Groucho Marx, “Goodbye, Mr. Ball, Goodbye,” to celebrate the occasion.

Even with Greenberg, Crosby’s Pirates were about as bad then as they are now. Heck, one year they had only a few more victories (42) than Ralph Kiner did home runs (37). In 1960, though, to the amazement of all, they knocked off the mighty Yankees in the World Series — a feat that ranks right up there with Letterman’s car winning the Indy 500.

Crosby’s partner in comedy, Bob Hope, was a Serious Sportsman himself. We all know about his golf tourney, of course, but how many remember that Ol’ Ski Nose once owned 11.11 percent of the Los Angeles Rams? Around the same time, the 1950s, Hope sunk some money into his hometown Cleveland Indians — probably so he could give Bing the needle whenever they beat the Tigers. (You can almost picture them bumping into each other at spring training. Crosby: “How’s the weather been, Bob?” Hope: “Great if you’re an orange.”)

Don Ameche — who would have guessed? — was a football owner, too, presiding over the Los Angeles Dons of the long lost All-America Conference. In the team’s 1949 media guide, he’s quoted as saying: “Our rookie roster is brilliant, and each man has been selected to obliterate a specific weakness. For instance, the Dons have always been powerful — and slow. This year we have secured at least seven rookies who can turn a 10-flat century.” Wonder if any of them was Hume Cronyn.

And let’s not forget one of the more intriguing subplots of the 2001 World Series — the fact that Yankees zealot Billy Crystal owned a tiny fraction — half a rattle, a quarter of a fang — of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Seems D’backs boss Jerry Colangelo cornered Crystal at an NBA game once and talked him into investing. But that didn’t stop Billy from partying with the Yanks during the Series. “One of them is an investment,” he explained, “and one of them is in your heart.”

Arizona broke Crystal’s heart by winning in seven games (though he came away with a World Series ring as a consolation prize). And now we have Letterman’s driver, Buddy Rice, taking the checkered flag at the Brickyard. Yes, life can be very good for these celebrities-turned-sports moguls. It didn’t even turn out too badly, come to think of it, for Pat Boone, the Man Who Got Stuck With A $2 Million Tab.

Boone was meeting with bankers one morning, trying to figure out a way to hang onto his house, when a stranger approached him and said, “Pat, I want to buy the Oakland Oaks. How much?”

Boone could hardly believe his ears. Finally, he blurted out, “$2.5 million.”

The stranger, D.C.’s own Earl Foreman, quickly agreed. “I want to move the team to Washington,” he told Boone.

And that, my friends, is how we got — for one, brief, shining season — the Capitols.

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