A Change of Seasons

More B.S.

Add this voice to the clamor against Danny Ainge's playing for the Celtics.

Maybe Ainge, currently an infielder for baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, has the ability and tenacity to become an NBA superstar. Maybe basketball was his best sport all along, and he played second base all that time merely to while away those long Utah summers and stay in shape.

I say no, that on the court he is a sharpshooter whose ability to penetrate, physical toughness and rebounding skill are suspect, and that he will make only an average pro. But suppose he could be a Hall of Famer, the next Oscar Robertson. Ainge signed a contract not to begin his Oscaring until after his obligations to Toronto were over, and he is morally and legally obliged to honor that contract.

Yes, the contract is restrictive-it limits what an employee can do in his off-hours. But like Dante Pastorini's old Houston Oiler contract forbidding him to race speedboats, or the clause in many baseball pacts prohibiting skiing or snowmobiling, the Blue Jays are simply protecting their investment in a valuable commodity-an investment they made in good faith when Ainge was still on college.

When the ballclub signed the Brigham Young sophomore, it was prepared to invest X dollars and X years in the hope that he would become a major leaguer somewhere down the road. Similar gambles are made on dozens of similar prospects every year.

Luckily, this one panned out. True, Ainge's bat has been unproductive and he is not yet an accomplished fielder, but many infielders (see Rick Burleson, Craig Nettles, Larry Bowa) take some time in the bigs to develop. His decision to abandon baseball for basketball costs the Jays not just the amateur draft selection they used to sign him, not just the time and money they have invested in him in salary, in coaching, in travel and in meals, but also the future services he would perform for them on the major league level. Ainge is not a prospect, he is a major league, considered by many in the know to be the team's best young player. If Ainge comes to Boston, the Celts should pay the Blue Jays substantial compensation.

The case will, of course, set a precedent, If John Elway, the Stanford quarterback who has already been drafted by the New York Yankees, makes a commitment to either sport and later changes his mind, the Ainge case will be cited as a guideline. Many college athletes in the past were faced with similar decisions; the Dick Groat's, Jake Gibbs', Tim Stoddard's and Dave Winfield's made their decisions, and had to stick by them.

No, Red Auerbach should have to wait this time. It was a brilliant move to draft Ainge, then a probable first round pick nobody thought they could sign because he was committed to baseball, late in the draft. But a contract is a contract, and unless Toronto receives sufficient compensation from the Celtics, Danny Ainge should stay right where he belongs for the next few years--in the Toronto Blue Jays' infield.