Want to know about the Ainge case? Don't ask

Return with us now to August, 1977, when the Toronto Blue Jays signed 18 -year-old in-fielder Danny Ainge (still an undergraduate at Brigham Young) to a professional baseball contract containing a sizeable bonus.

In fact, Ainge had been such a great all-around high school athlete that he made All-State in football as a wide receiver, with a lot of people arguing that basketball, or maybe baseball, was actually his best sport.

The way Toronton got him to sign (since he wanted to continue his basketball career at BYU) was to agree that he didn't have to report until April, and that he could return to college in September in time for classes.

Fewer than two years later, after playing in only 146 minor league games, Danny was starting at second base for Toronto. He played well in the field and had occasional hot streaks at bat, but most of the time he had trouble hitting the breaking ball.

His best days were still at Brigham Young, where he became a high-scoring All-America guard. This got him chosen in last June's National Basketball Association college draft by the Boston Celtics, with whom Danny now wants to go to training camp.

But problems arose earlier this year when Ainge signed a second contract with Toronto containing a clause forbidding him to play pro basketball. Later, Danny claims, that clause was waived verbally by Blue Jays president Peter Bavasi and confirmed by vice-president Paul Gillick. The matter is now in the courts.

Hoping to clarify things, I walked into Toronto manager Bobby Mattick's office in the visitors' clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium the other night and ran into a hurricane.

The question I asked Mattick seemed innocent enough: Could you tell me, Bobby , what the situation is right now with Danny Ainge and the Toronto baseball club?

First Bobby put on a look that belonged in a scabbard, then shouted: "Why does every reporter I see ask me that same question? I'm sick and tired of hearing that question.I'm sick and tired of hearing about Danny Ainge. I don't want to talk about Danny Ainge. I don't want to look at Danny Ainge. I don't want anything to do with Danny Ainge. Why would you come in here and ask a question like that when you know I've just lost a ball game to the Angels?"

Three things immediately went through my mind. I wondered what Ainge, who was standing in front of his locker just a few feet away and couldn't help overhearing part of our conversation, was thinking.

I wondered how a man who had lost close to 65 games this year and was in last place, could worry about another defeat. I also wondered how an infielder who was batting under .200 and hadn't played regularly in a long time could get a manager so upset.

Ainge, who looked a little bewildered by this time, said he wouldn't talk to me about his problems with the toronto club but would talk about his problems as a player.

"Defensively, I feel I've played OK in the infield, although I think my best position is center field," Danny explained. "I've had my problems at the plate, and right now I'm nowhere near solving them. But then every once in awhile I'll hit well for a short time, and I think maybe that's why the Blue Jays have kept me around."

The interview ended when Mattick yelled at us for talking basketball (we hadn't yet), and Ainge said he guessed it would be better if we terminated our conversation.

The question is: Can Danny Ainge, if he gets legal permission to try out with the Boston Celtics, make it in the NBA?

Opinions vary about Ainge, whose angular 6 ft. 5 in. body looks no more rugged than that of Bill Bradley when he was a rookie with the New York Knicks.

The following are the observations of Dan Carnevale, head basketball coach at Cal Poly Pomona, who as a former assistant coach at Long Beach State and Colorado State, had a front row seat for three of Danny's best college performances.

"Although Ainge has tremendous skills as a basketball player, especially in the areas of passing and shooting, he needs a lot more physical strength and maturity in my opinion to come into the NBA and play regularly," Carnevale said. "I remember how rival teams beat up on Bill Bradley during his first couple of years with the Knicks and how he almost didn't make it physically.

"But with Boston, Ainge has a chance," Dan continued. "Red Auerbach will make sure that his coach picks spots for Danny, that he won't be asked to do too much too soon, and that he'll get the ball where he can do something with it.

"Given time, this kid can be a starter and probably a star. But if the NBA wasn't going to 12-man squads this season, I'm not sure that even the Celtics could afford to spend the time it will take to get him ready."

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