Baltimore Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs has informed baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent that he is considering selling the team.
Mr. Vincent said he received a letter from Mr. Jacobs two or three days ago in which Mr. Jacobs told of his plan to consider offers for the team he agreed to purchase in December 1988 for $70 million plus assumption of debts totaling about another $16 million to $17 million.
"Eli has written and said he is exploring the sale of the Orioles," Mr. Vincent said early this morning.
"People have approached him about the club. He originally said he wasn't interested. Now, he says he is going to explore the sale. He wanted me to know he was going to explore it. It doesn't mean he will necessarily sell."
Mr. Jacobs could not be reached for comment last night, and Orioles President Larry Lucchino, who was with the team in Minnesota, refused to comment.
Mr. Vincent said he did not know who the buyers might be, or even if Mr. Jacobs has talked with any. In today's editions of the Washington Post, Mr. Jacobs is quoted as saying he has been approached by two investors.
Mr. Jacobs told the Post he retained an investment banking firm in March to evaluate the market and assess potential buyers.
Mr. Vincent said he was surprised that Mr. Jacobs would consider selling the team, which is expected to move into the new downtown ballpark at Camden Yards for the 1992 season. But, referring to Mr. Jacobs' willingness to listen to offers, the commissioner said: "I can understand. He's very busy and extraordinarily involved in a whole bunch of fields. He has all sorts of competing elements in his life. My recollection of his letter is that he says he's interested in being less intensely occupied with baseball."
Mr. Jacobs, 53, who lives in New York, bought a home in Baltimore County shortly after he purchased the Orioles. He is an investment banker with financial stakes in a range of companies.
Mr. Jacobs is chairman of Memorex-Telex, the world's second-largest manufacturer of computer peripheral equipment. According to his biography in the Orioles media guide, Mr. Jacobs owns a controlling interest in companies whose annual revenue exceed $5 billion.
Several companies in which Mr. Jacobs has a financial interest have suffered during the recession. But Mr. Vincent said he did not believe that had anything to do with the decision of the Orioles principal owner to consider offers for the team.
"I think he has a good asset. I suspect it is a very valuable asset," Mr. Vincent said. "I simply think he has other interests that are pressing on his time. He loves baseball. He told me he has enjoyed every minute [as owner]. A lot of things are competing for his time. Baseball is an intense occupation."
Mr. Vincent said he believes Mr. Jacobs' decision also is attributable to the public scrutiny that comes with owning a major-league team, attention Mr. Jacobs often has attempted to escape.
"He's not a particularly public person, and this is a very public enterprise," Mr. Vincent said of Mr. Jacobs.
Mr. Jacobs is quoted in the Post as saying: "If I continue owning the Orioles, I'm going to pay a personal price in terms of my lifestyle. I haven't taken a vacation in almost a year and a half, and I don't think that's healthy."
Mr. Vincent wouldn't speculate how much money the Orioles might be worth. But the two National League expansion teams soon to be awarded will cost investors $95 million apiece. Speculation about the sale of the Orioles has risen as high as $120 million to $125 million.
Mr. Jacobs headed a group that purchased the team from the estate of the late Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams, who paid $12 million for the Orioles in 1979.
"I think it is a very attractive franchise. It's hard to find anything that isn't attractive about it," Mr. Vincent said.