Ideal owner is man much like Jacobs

John Steadman

June 10, 1991|By John Steadman

For sale: One baseball team, trading under the name Orioles formerly known as the Baltimore Orioles. Long-established tradition with strong assets and good will in the public sector. Contact the J.P. Morgan & Co. Inc., 23 Wall St., New York. All prospective inquiries are to be treated confidentially. Financial resume is required.

The hunt to find a buyer for Baltimore's major-league franchise will be conducted on a "low-key" basis, according to Eli Jacobs, the man who paid $70 million for the property slightly more than two years ago. Jacobs says he's "only considering," or entertaining the thought, of selling the Orioles. So there's no immediate urgency or pressing need to respond.

He furthermore says, in keeping with his demeanor, that he prefer it be carried on as a "subtle" negotiation. But that might be impossible, considering this is the sale of a renowned sports team that has been operating for more than 100 years. Interest cannot be minimized.

How, hypothetically, might an appropriate personal profile of a likely new Orioles owner be outlined or projected? Ideally, he or she would need the following:

* Financial resources. Somewhere around $100 million. If no such individual comes forth then the only option is for a group to form and name a managing partner with authority to administer daily operations. A possibility to lead such a combine might be Larry Lucchino, the Orioles president under Jacobs, who is respected in the Baltimore business community.

* Interest in baseball. It helps to be a former player, even the sandlot version, because an understanding of the game is essential to its enjoyment. It's a prerequisite to know the difference between Paul Derringer and Charley Gehringer.

* Personality. Quiet, retiring and dignified. Not one interested in creating headlines for self-aggrandizement. No need to be in the dugout, standing around the batting cage or upstaging the front office. Permit those hired for specific jobs, including players on the field, to do exactly that -- without a hint of interference.

Rather an owner be reserved and conservative than demonstrative and controversial. More a Tom Yawkey, Phil Wrigley or Gene Autry type, where the most favorable quality was their humility. The players are the show -- not the man who holds the franchise license.

Advantages to owning a club are obvious. The purchase of the Orioles would guarantee access to the best tickets in the park, getting to know the team members on a first-name basis, being aware of what's going on in the scouting, signing and teaching of young talent and being recognized almost wherever you go as "owner of the Orioles."

Oh, yes, there's the chance to entertain friends from all elements of the business, political and social sphere. There has to be something as a payback to make the investment of $100 million, or so, worthwhile. You also get the opportunity to know the commissioner of baseball and to associate with the other owners, if that can be deemed a pleasure.

Jacobs was ridiculed by some critics, those who referred to him as aloof and standoffish, for playing host to officials from high places in government. But, after all, every owner has the inalienable right to bring to his box guests that don't need to first be approved by we sportswriters, be they street cleaners, oyster shuckers or heads of state.

It occurs to us, at this point, that an ideal owner for Baltimore, except for the fact he's not a famous native son, such as Babe Ruth, might be the man who is "thinking about" selling. Eli Jacobs has not damaged the Orioles. They are still in place. Never once has he made a threat to move. He never impeded the general manager or field manager.

His desire not to throw away enormous sums of money on veteran free agents playing out the string is to be commended rather than censured since there's no correlation with spending record amounts on players masquerading as major leaguers and actual results.

Had that been the case the New York Yankees would win the pennant and World Series every year. If an owner has an engaging disposition, which, bottom line, counts for nothing, it might make him popular . . . but not if his team loses. Eli Jacobs, or any owner, should not have to prove his worth by undergoing a change in personality to appease the press and public.

The Jacobs' regime has not been spectacular but no apologies are necessary for the way the Baltimore baseball business has been conducted.

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