The Owner Who Fired Himself

June 07, 1991

If Eli Jacobs sells the Orioles to the right kind of owners, it would be in the best interest of all concerned. Major league baseball has become the sort of big business that is best served by, if not a full-time owner, at least one with substantial time to devote to the franchise. As Mr. Jacobs suggested, he can't be that. There are not enough hours in the day for him to run his other enterprises and do right by the Orioles, too.

Another negative is that he seems to approach team ownership much like any other business despite his undoubted love of baseball. The tradition, if not the reality, is that owners are eleemosynary folks concerned mainly with the final standings.

Still another negative for Mr. Jacobs is his discomfort with public attention. Like many businessmen, he has a passion for anonymity. Such men prefer to have personnel and budget decisions discussed only in the executive suite. That usually can be done. When you agree to pay the manager or other employee of one of your enterprises X dollars, that is seldom front page news or the topic of debate on radio talk shows or second guessing by columnists. Same thing with firing people. Same thing with negotiating contracts and leases.

In baseball, the public and the press crave such details and relish discussing them at length, often critically, occasionally contemptuously. Mr. Jacobs obviously doesn't like this heat, and, unlike some other sports teams owners in the past, he has decided early on that the thing to do is get out of the kitchen. At least he's leaving us the kitchen.

Mr. Jacobs says he is interested in finding owners who combine his love of the Orioles with more time to commit to them than he has. You might say that in the club's best interest, he's firing himself. That's about as rare as a .400 average. It's also noble. Orioles fans should appreciate it.

Orioles fans are noble fans. Accustomed to winners, they are loyal to losers. In the two full seasons of Mr. Jacobs' ownership, attendance averaged well over two million. This year, even though the Orioles have the worst record in the American League, attendance is ahead of last year. And wait till next year! Attendance at the new downtown stadium is certain to set a record -- and the greatly increased number of quality seats is going to produce much higher revenue. This franchise, unlike a lot of others, has the potential to look good both in the standings and on the balance sheet.

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