O's to be hometown team, even without hometown buyer Leaders had no warning

June 07, 1991|By Mark Hyman and John W. Frece Peter Schmuck of The Sun's sports staff and Gelareh Asayesh of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

William Donald Schaefer found out the way most Baltimore Orioles fans did. He read it in the morning paper.

Kurt L. Schmoke didn't get any notice either.

But when the two high-ranking fans heard yesterday that Orioles principal owner Eli S. Jacobs had decided to consider offers for his baseball team, they said they weren't totally surprised.

"You have to understand Mr. Jacobs. He's a brilliant businessman. He's possibly the most intense businessman I have ever known in my life," Governor Schaefer said.

"But he's a very shy person. He's not like the average owners of major sports franchises. Most of them are very outgoing."

Mayor Schmoke said rumors had reached him over the past year that "a number of people" were making offers to Mr. Jacobs.

Despite reports that Mr. Jacobs might sell his 87 percent interest in the team, Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke said they were confident that the Orioles would move to the new Camden Yards ballpark next season and would be in Baltimore when Cal Ripken's consecutive-game streak was in the millions.

Mr. Jacobs, a New York investment banker, tried to allay fears that the team might be moving, a concern that historically has surfaced at the first whiff of a change in ownership.

AThe Orioles owner was in California on a business trip yesterday. He did not return phone calls. But in a statement released by the team, Mr. Jacobs suggested that the Orioles' future in Baltimore is secure.

"Whether or not the Orioles will be sold is quite uncertain," he said. "What is certain, however, is that should the Orioles be sold, it would only be sold to someone whose com

mitment to baseball -- and to baseball in Baltimore -- is unequivocal. In the meantime, my own deep in volvement and commitment to the Orioles will not change."

In the three-paragraph statement, Mr. Jacobs emphasized that he had not decided to sell the team but that he had authorized his investment banker, J. P. Morgan & Co. Inc., to look into a possible sale because, he said, his commitments to the team were too time-consuming.

He said he had been approached by two investors, but he did not specify whether he had entered negotiations with either.

"No one can fully appreciate the time demands of owning a baseball team until he becomes an owner. I know I didn't," said Mr. Jacobs, who agreed to buy the Orioles from the family of late owner Edward Bennett Williams for $70 million and the assumption of debts totaling $16 million to $17 million in December 1988.

"As much as I enjoy the time spent on the Orioles, it has unfortunately cut into the time available for other personal interests."

Mr. Jacobs holds an 87 percent stock interest in the Orioles. His partners are team President Larry Lucchino, who owns 9 percent, and former Peace Corps Director R. Sargent Shriver, who has 4 percent.

Shriver did not return a call to his Washington office yesterday. Mr. Lucchino declined to comment on most issues surrounding a possible sale, including a question about his role with the team if Mr. Jacobs sells.

"I don't want to comment on that," Mr. Lucchino said yesterday at Memorial Stadium. "I have to look and see what my rights and obligations are."

In an interview published yesterday in the Washington Post, Mr Jacobs cited a number of reasons for perhaps selling his interest in the team. In addition to the time demands (he said he attended about 70 games a year), he said he wasn't comfortable with the high public profile that comes with owning a pro sports team.

Mr. Schaefer, who has observed the Orioles owner in social situations, said he wasn't surprised by that statement. The governor recalled that, on the day after the sale of the Orioles was announced, Mr. Schaefer had to persuade the new owner that he had an obligation to attend a news conference.

Mr. Schaefer said the baseball life has thrust Mr. Jacobs into "the public limelight he's not comfortable with. . . . He does love to rub shoulders with the rich and powerful. They all know him, but he's never in the limelight. They're in the limelight."

For his part, Mr. Schmoke said he was relieved to hear Mr. Jacobs' pledge that he would not sell to investors unless they were committed to keeping the Orioles in Baltimore.

"That's why I'm not concerned about any possible negative impact on the fans here," the mayor said.

Prices paid for the Orioles

1953.. .. (Sept. 29).. .. Clarence Miles.. .. .. $2.475 million

1965.. .. (Fall).. .. .. .Jerold C. Hoffberger.. Unknown

1979.. .. (Nov.1).. .. .. Edward Bennett Williams.. $12 million

1988.. .. (Dec 6).. .. .. Eli S. Jacobs.. .. .. .. $70 million

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