RUMORS EMANATING from the Baltimore financial community say Orioles owner Eli Jacobs' tight-fistedness is due to financial problems with his other holdings. Some say Jacobs has been siphoning off money from Orioles profits to make up for losses elsewhere.
The "siphoning" charge is definitely false. Jacobs' purchase of the Orioles in 1989 was heavily financed and the banks forbid the siphoning off of Orioles profits.
If Jacobs is having financial difficulties, he is not alone in the present economy. Though the Orioles' media guide boasts that Jacobs owns controlling interest in companies whose annual revenues exceed $5 billion, the owner's actual worth is subject to debate. Jacobs was not listed in the latest Forbes 400, the wealth of whose members begins at $250 million. As a major-league owner, he is too visible for the magazine to have overlooked if he has that kind of money.
One reason Jacobs has not been a major player in the free-agent market stems from a misunderstanding with club president and CEO Larry Lucchino. When Jacobs bought the club, Lucchino painted a picture for him that was rosier than things turned out. No one knew then, for instance, that collusion damages would cost each club $10.8 million. Neither did anyone foresee that clubs would be shelling out millions upon millions this winter, even for mediocre players. So Jacobs is spending money according to the guidelines Lucchino originally gave him, not according to the present crazy market.
The rapport between Jacobs and Lucchino is not good right now. There is even speculation that Lucchino will go back to work as a lawyer in Washington. Many are convinced that after the Orioles' new state-of-the-art ballpark opens next year, toward which the O's have not had to contribute a nickel, Jacobs will sell the Orioles for nearly double the $70 million he paid. Why not? That's what he does, buy and sell companies.
* Milt Roberts, a unique man who died of cancer last week at 72, was remembered at a memorial service today at the Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis.
Roberts lived for lacrosse, a sport he played and coached seemingly everywhere. He loved to spread the game to new places, such as Delaware, where he spent the past couple decades. Roberts wrote the definitive history of the sport: "The Lacrosse Story." He is a member of three halls of fame, including the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. To the end he was a great judge of talent. In 1988 he watched a Johns Hopkins freshman attackman come off the bench at Chestertown and play a few minutes against Washington College. "That kid," Roberts said, "is going to be a star one of these days." The next year that kid, Matt Panetta, was a first team All-America.
The Roberts family suggests contributions to the Delaware Hospice, Southern Division, Georgetown, Del., or to any other interests known to be special to Milt, which would include the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
* Those who wrote off the Washington Bullets a month into the season are having second thoughts. These guys, as they showed even in an overtime loss to Philadelphia at the Arena -- a neutral court -- over the holidays, are amazing. They've won three straight, six of their last eight -- and three in a row on the road. That should end tonight in Milwaukee, which is 17-0 at home and the surprise of the NBA season. But Ledell Eackles is finally starting "to get my legs under me" and John Williams is expected back late this month. The way they're going, they can make the playoffs. Says coach Wes Unseld: "I'm just trying to get them to believe they can keep it up."
* In this age of specialization, Virginia's Matt Blundin is extraordinary. Last Tuesday night he played quarterback in the Sugar Bowl. Last Saturday, four days later, the 6-foot-7 Blundin played basketball for the Cavaliers in a 17-point win over Duke. Nap Doherty, former Loyola and Hopkins basketball coach, says Blundin is "a coach's player . . . he sets picks and does a lot of little things." Ex-Baltimorean Bill Spencer attended the basketball game against Duke and said, "Matt got so many standing ovations I lost count." With Shawn Moore finished, Blundin could be the regular Virginia QB next fall.
* No football fan is less enthralled with sliding quarterbacks than Baltimorean George Franke, the old Princeton fullback. Franke could hardly believe it when he saw Boomer Esiason run 20 yards Sunday against Houston, then slide down at the 4-yard line to avoid getting hit -- and then jump up and shake his fist, exhorting his Bengals teammates. Says Franke: "If he's such a leader, why didn't he go for the goal line and score a touchdown?"