There is no need to measure him for a Celtics uniform just yet, but Danny Ainge took one step more toward becoming a member of the world championship basketball team yesterday when federal Judge Lee Gagliardi modified a temporary restraining order that had prevented the Celtics from negotiating with the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman.
The Celtics still may not sign Ainge to a basketball contract, but they will be allowed to conduct talks with him between now and Monday, Sept. 28.
The highlight of yesterday's court proceedings came when Blue Jays' vice president Pat Gillick admitted in a deposition filed before the court that without the negotiating leverage afforded Ainge by virtue of his basketball ability, he would not have been offered more than a one-year contract for $50,000. Instead, Ainge signed a three-year contract last Sept. 15 calling for $500,000 in salaries and bonuses. Moreover, it is one of only two guaranteed contracts given to a Toronto ballplayer.
Ainge was called upon to explain why he asked for a check for $120,000, the remainder of his $300,000 bonus money, on Aug. 8, two full months after asking to be released from his Toronto contract. He explained that it was the opinion of his attorney and his uncle, an investment counselor, that the Internal Revenue Service could very well tax him as if he had received the full $300,000, whether or not he actually received the full amount, and that it made sense to secure the money.
This was the first time all the principals had gotten together in the courtroom. Present for Toronto were both Gillick and team president Peter Bavasi. Red Auerbach attended the hearing on behalf of the Celtics, while Ainge, who had a game last night against the California Angels back in Toronto, was accompanied by his wife, Michelle, and his agent, Eugene (Ore.) attorney Bob Quinney. An air of conviviality prevailed throughout.
The Blue Jays had entered court seeking a preliminary injunction against the Celtics to prevent them from dealing with Ainge, and toward that end were required to demonstrate that removing Ainge from the squad would constitute "irreparable harm." Gillick testified that Ainge was the best third baseman the team has ("At present he is the only person we have who can play third base on a regular basis") and that, were he to give full concentration to his baseball career, he could "bat .260 to .270 with 15 to 20 homers over a full season." He cited Graig Nettles, Mike Schmidt and Doug DeCinces as third basemen who had slow starts at the plate in their careers, and said that Ainge, who is presently batting below .190, could improve with experience.
"I'm satisfied with the proceedings," declared Cooley. We've got the lines of communications open. As long as people are talking to each other, there is hope for progress."