It's easy to say good-buy to Jacobs New stadium, rich history make Orioles attractive commodity ...

John Steadman

June 07, 1991|By John Steadman

So far all that has transpired is the posting of the "For Sale" sign. The Baltimore Orioles are a good buy at any price. They represent an elegant baseball property. They are progressing with a developmental-player program that bodes promise for the future, when the team will be housed in a new downtown park with customers fighting to buy tickets.

Owner Eli Jacobs, who has directed the franchise for 2 1/3 seasons, says he's considering a sale. Action is not imminent. Realistically, it could take from two months to a year, preferably within the shorter time frame because of the trauma drawn-out proceedings create. Especially with the Orioles considered some kind of a public trust, even if they are a vehicle for profit.

Hopefully, the transaction will be painless. It would seem Larry Lucchino, who is president and holds 9 percent ownership, is in position to put a group together to take over from Jacobs. It's a suggestion that offers merit because it takes a multimillionaire in this era to buy a team outright, and those type of investors suddenly aren't fighting with each other to enter sports.

It was embarrassing and surprising for Baltimore to read about Jacobs' projected sale in The Washington Post. Even Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who has done so much to accommodate the Orioles, along with guiding the legislation that made it possible to provide them a $105 million park without any cost to the club, was not informed of Jacobs' intentions. It could be likened, in baseball nomenclature, to a quick pitch.

Schaefer, who has been down this road before, is not optimistic that a single money man will step forth. "We lost a great opportunity when Edward Bennett Williams bought the Orioles [in 1979]. I tried hard then for local ownership," he said when the cost was $12 million. But Schaefer doesn't deny that absentee owners, as he calls them, can't be effective and compatible. It all depends on the individual and how he or she fits the concept.

There's precedent for multiple ownership -- the Chicago White Sox have a roster of 80; the Texas Rangers show 17; and the New York Yankees list 14. They are owners; not players. One or two general partners are invested with authority to make decisions, which means they don't have to ask for a vote from their associates every time they order a gross of baseballs or put a player on waivers.

Yes, this can work and Lucchino, since he functioned under Williams and now Jacobs, ought to be familiar with how to implement such a plan. That is, if he doesn't go back to the practice of law. How it all evolves is only a guess at this time. The dust needs to settle and an orderly appraisal made in wake of the sudden development.

Schaefer paid Jacobs a compliment when he described him as a man with "a sense of responsibility" and also "a very private person." Jacobs hasn't given Baltimore much of a chance to get to know him. But there's no rule in baseball that says the owner needs to grant interviews or drape himself over the batting cage during pre-game practice.

Jacobs didn't do any of that, which is a point that merits applause, considering what Baltimore has had to endure in the ** past with some egomaniacal owners in both baseball and football. Actually, little has changed within the front office since Jacobs paid a reported $70 million for the Orioles from the estate of Williams on Dec. 6, 1988.

He kept Lucchino, general manager Roland Hemond, assistant general manager Doug Melvin and other executives in place. Manager Frank Robinson would still be in command of the dugout, except losing ways fell upon his team and Lucchino and Hemond recommended a change.

Regardless of persona, which is his prerogative, Jacobs hasn't scuttled the Orioles. They are still in Baltimore and will be for at least another 15 years, thanks to a sweetheart contract that is the most liberal any city or state has thrust on a professional sports enterprise.

A group of wealthy, respectable members of the Baltimore business community -- if one can't handle it alone -- need to pool their resources and step forth to open negotiations with Jacobs. The sooner it happens the better because of the emotionalism and notoriety that goes with owning a major-league baseball franchise.

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