The Baltimore Orioles might be under new ownership in the near future, but club officials insist that the team will not be in turmoil while owner Eli Jacobs tests the marketability of his major-league franchise.
"That is a point of pride for some of us in the organization," club president Larry Lucchino said yesterday. "We have been through this process before, and we kept things moving, did our business as usual and minimized distractions."
The Orioles franchise has changed hands three times in its 38-year history, most recently in 1988, following the death of Edward Bennett Williams. Lucchino and general manager Roland Hemond presided over the daily operation of the club before that sale and remain in charge today.
The possibility of another transfer of ownership leaves room to wonder whether the club can go about business as usual in its front office, but the highest-ranking club officials say that the direction of the team will not be affected.
"All I can speak to is our experience," said Lucchino, who was involved in both the transfer of the team and the daily operation of it in 1988. "We went through the process with a minimum of disruption."
The deal took several months to complete, but the on-field evolution of the club's youth movement went on without apparent interruption.
"I had the authority to do what I thought was good for the team," Lucchino said. "We made major transactions. We traded Eddie Murray at about the time the [sale] was negotiated. We also made the [Mike] Boddicker trade and the Fred Lynn deal during that time period."
News of the possible sale had to be unsettling to the dozens of front-office employees who might be affected by a change in ownership. There was no dramatic change in front-office personnel when Jacobs purchased the club, but a new owner might clean house.
"That's a normal reaction," Hemond said. "My best advice for people is, don't worry about it. It's something out of your control. Don't lose your enthusiasm for the job at hand, because if you do a good job, you have a better chance of being retained."
Hemond should know. He went through three ownership transfers during his 15 years (1970-85) in the Chicago White Sox front office. He was in his first year as Orioles general manager when Jacobs assumed a controlling interest in the club. In none of those four ownership changes, he said, did he sense a change in the day-to-day operations of the club.
"My experience has been that it did not [have an effect]," Hemond said. "You just have to go forward and do the best job you can. There's no sense worrying about it, because usually those things don't transpire overnight anyway."
Hemond said that yesterday that it was business as usual in the upstairs offices at Memorial Stadium, where he continues to look for ways to strengthen the last-place Orioles.
"On the baseball side, you're so consumed with just doing the job, it doesn't lend to much time to worry about the situation," he said. "I don't think anyone should react to heavily to a first-day story anyway. If it happens, it's going to take awhile."
While the possibilities reverberated through the upper levels of management, the men in uniform seemed largely unconcerned and, in some cases, unaware that anything was going on.
"It could affect everybody in the organization," manager John Oates said, "depending on who the new owners are and who they bring with them, but it's out of our hands."
Still, the open-ended scenario does lend itself to some what ifs. For instance, what effect will the possible sale have on negotiations with potential free agent Glenn Davis after this year and Cal Ripken after next season?
The Orioles have fielded criticism for their apparent lack of interest in high-priced talent under Jacobs' ownership, so it might be interesting to see how the ownership situation affects the team's dealings after this season.
"I can't comment on that," Lucchino said. "Yogi Berra had a saying: 'It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future.' "