Less than one year before the Orioles are to move into their new Camden Yards stadium, and less than three years after buying the team, principal team owner Eli S. Jacobs is reportedly considering selling the ballclub, according to published reports.
Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent told The Sun that he has received a letter from Jacobs within the last two or three days, informing him that Jacobs will consider offers for the team that he purchased from the estate of late owner Edward Bennett Williams in November, 1988.
The Washington Post reported in today's editions that Jacobs, 53, a New York financier who owns 87 percent of the team, was considering two offers for the club and had retained an investment banking firm to evaluate the market and assess interested buyers.
Orioles president Larry Lucchino, who owns 9 percent of the franchise, would not comment on the report. He was in Minneapolis for last night's 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins, but accompanied the team home.
R. Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps and former Democratic vice-presidential nominee, and his son, Bobby, own the remaining 4 percent of the club. They could not be reached for comment.
Should Jacobs sell the team, it would mark the fourth change of ownership in Orioles' history since the franchise relocated here from St. Louis in 1954.
Jacobs is chairman of Memorex-Telex, the world's second largest manufacturer of computer peripheral equipment and a member of the board of directors of Times Mirror Corp., which owns The Baltimore Sun Co. Jacobs is said to have a controlling interest in companies with annual revenue exceeds $5 billion.
Several companies that Jacobs has a financial interest in have slumped during the recession, but Vincent told The Sun that he does not believe that the economic downturn has very much to do with Jacobs' interest in selling the team.
"I think he has a good asset. I suspect it is a very valuable asset," Vincent told the newspaper.
Jacobs, who also lives in New York, purchased a home in the Baltimore area after buying the club, but 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.
Jacobs told the Post that if he sells the team, he will keep his Baltimore home and a skybox at the new stadium and continue to root for the Orioles.
But Jacobs, who is a member of baseball's Executive Council, comprised of Vincent, the American and National League presidents and other team owners, expressed a willingness to leave the public limelight that ownership of a major league baseball team brings.
"I greatly underestimated the amount of public attention that attaches to owning a major league baseball team," Jacobs said. "There are some people who don't enjoy having high profiles. And there are some that do.
"I would prefer that I live a normal, ordinary life. It's very hard to live a normal ordinary life when you own a major sports franchise."
Vincent told The Sun, "I simply think he has other interests that are pressing on his time. He loves baseball. He has told me that he has enjoyed every minute [as owner]. A lot of things are competing for his time. Baseball is a very intense occupation."
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 askng 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, scheduled to open next April, is also certain to enhance the value of the Orioles' franchise.
Williams signed a 15-year lease for the stadium before his death in 1988, and that lease was inherited by Jacobs when he purchased the team, almost certainly limiting the potential for relocating the team.
Jacobs told the Post that he did not initiate talks to sell the club, but was "reacting to and pondering the possibility initiated by others." "There's no rush to sell. But people have evidenced a high level of interest.
"But I would only sell to people of quality and substance who share my vision of what baseball in Baltimore is about," Jacobs said.