Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs said today that while he is entertaining offers and might sell the team -- less than one year before it is to move into its new Camden yards stadium -- the club will remain in Baltimore.
Jacobs, who along with Orioles team president Larry Lucchino and Sargent Shriver purchased the club in November, 1988 from the estate of the late Edward Bennett Williams for $70 million, said that he had notified Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent of the possibility that he would sell the club following "several inquiries" from potential buyers.
In a statement released by the team today, Jacobs said that he had not made a decision to sell the club, but had authorized his investment banker, J.P. Morgan, to look into the matter.
"Whether or not the Orioles will be sold is quite uncertain," the statement said. "What is certain, however, is that should the Orioles be sold, it would only be sold to someone whose commitment to baseball -- and to baseball in Baltimore -- is unequivocal."
Even if Jacobs were to sell the team to a potential buyer interested in moving, said Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, the team's 15-year lease is "ironclad" and virtually binds the team to the new ballpark for the length of the lease, regardless of ownership.
"Jacobs bought it from the [Edward Bennett] Williams family and he couldn't move them," Hoffman said today.
"The language is crystal clear and there are no ifs or maybes. The team has to stay here for 15 full seasons."
Hoffman said the lease has two five-year renewal options which the club can exercise to extend its stay at the new $105 million stadium, which is scheduled to open next April.
Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the stadium authority, said the involvement of both the commissioner's office and the American League in planning the Camden Yards stadium made approval of relocation "impossible."
Governor William Donald Schaefer, through a spokeswoman, said that Marylanders had little to fear from Jacobs, whom he hopes to meet with when he returns from a two-week Far East tour on June 21. Schaefer said he hoped that new ownership might be locally based.
Jacobs, 53, a New York financier who owns 87 percent of the team, is reportedly considering two offers for the club which he said had come over "the past months."
Should Jacobs sell the team, it would mark the fourth change of ownership in Oriole history since the franchise moved here from St. Louis in 1954. Vincent said an ownership committee will study the two unnamed parties that have expressed an interest in buying the club in an advisory manner.
Under baseball rules, any change in ownership must be approved by at least 10 of the 14 American League clubs, as well as seven of 12 National League owners.
Jacobs is chairman of Memorex-Telex, the world's second largest manufacturer of computer peripheral equipment, and is a member of the board of directors of Times Mirror Corp., which owns the Baltimore Sun Co.
Vincent said he does not think that Washington, D.C.'s candidacy for one of two National League expansion teams and a posssible drop in attendance from Washington area fans have a bearing on Jacobs' interest in selling the team.
Jacobs maintains a very low profile, preferring to leave club management and operations to Lucchino, who was named acting president after Williams' death in 1988, and to General Manager Roland Hemond.
He expressed a willingness to leave the public limelight that ownership of a major league baseball team brings.
"No one can fully appreciate the time demands of owning a baseball team until he becomes an owner," said Jacobs, in his statement. "I know I didn't. As much as I enjoy the time spent on the Orioles, it has unfortunately cut into the time available for other personal interests."
Though the Orioles have sputtered in the early going, occupying
the cellar of the American League's Eastern Division, the team is thought to be worth at least $120 million, about $50 million more than the current ownership paid for the team less than three years ago -- especially in view of the National League's asking price of $95 million for each of two expansion teams that will join the league in 1993.
The new 46,000-seat stadium at Camden Yards is also certain to enhance the value of the Oriole franchise.
"That's exactly where the value is going to come from," said Hoffman. "There are revenue potentials in the new stadium that weren't present in Memorial Stadium. There are 72 skyboxes [at Camden Yards] as opposed to none. There's club seating in the new place where there is none at Memorial."