Weinglass investigates buying Orioles Local millionaire makes inquiries with team for sale

June 18, 1991|By Mark Hyman Peter H. Frank of The Sun's Business staff and Alan Goldstein of The Sun's Sports staff contributed to this article.

Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, a Baltimore native whose personal fortune is valued at more than $100 million, said yesterday that he is at a "very early stage" of trying to buy the Baltimore Orioles.

Mr. Weinglass' overtures come just 11 days after Orioles principal owner Eli S. Jacobs announced his plan to consider offers for the team.

Mr. Weinglass, who lives 11 months of the year in Aspen, Colo., but has residences in Baltimore and Ocean City, said that he has contacted Mr. Jacobs' representatives, the J. P. Morgan & Co., Inc., investment banking firm, and that he is waiting to receive financial reports about the team. Mr. Weinglass said he could not estimate what he would be willing to pay for the team "until I look at the numbers."

Mr. Weinglass' plans were first reported last night by Stan "The Fan" Charles, who hosts a sports radio talk show. Mr. Charles' and Mr. Weinglass' families are longtime friends.

Another of Mr. Weinglass' friends from his Baltimore days is director Barry Levinson, who used him as a model for one of the characters in his 1982 movie, "Diner."

Mr. Jacobs has owned the Orioles less than three years. In December 1988, he and his partners, Orioles President Larry Lucchino and Sargent Shriver, agreed to buy the team from the family of the late owner Edward Bennett Williams for $70 million plus assumption of another $16 million to $17 million in deferred player salaries and collusion damages owed by the 26 team owners to major-league players.

Mr. Jacobs, who has an 87 percent stock interest in the team, hasn't spoken publicly about the price he is seeking, but estimates have ranged as high as $180 million.

The price of the team has escalated, in part, because of major league baseball's plans for expansion. Next month, investors in Miami and Denver are expected to be awarded new National League franchises for $95 million each, plus start-up costs of $20 million to $25 million per team.

If the Orioles are being offered for considerably more than that, Mr. Weinglass said, "It's definitely not a good price. . . . There are better things I can do with my money, be sure of the safety and get a compounded interest rate of 9 or 10 percent annually."

Then, perhaps revealing something of his plans for the team, Mr. Weinglass said that if his bid were successful, he would expect to spend roughly $20 million beyond the sale price to stock up on new players. Going into last night's games, the Orioles were tied for last place in the American League East.

"I know up front we'd have to spend money for new players," Mr. Weinglass said.

Until Mr. Jacobs announced he might sell the Orioles, Mr. Weinglass said he had no idea that they might be for sale. And he said he had not seriously considered bidding for them until he was approached with the idea by Mr. Charles.

According to Mr. Weinglass, officials at J. P. Morgan told him "about eight other people" were pursuing the Orioles, but he said he wasn't discouraged by that -- or even convinced it is true.

"Remember, these people are salesmen," he said of Mr. Jacobs' bankers. "When someone hires them to sell a team, it's in their interest to get a price. It's in their interest to tell you that 30 people are interested."

Mr. Weinglass offered several reasons for wanting to buy the team, including his love of sports and a desire for the Orioles to be owned by local investors. He said local ownership means "everything" to a sports team.

"When you're a local owner, you have the fans and the players in mind," he said. "You're there and you want a winner. I am not sure that's what the Orioles have been doing the last couple of years."

Mr. Jacobs, an investment banker, lives in New York and Los Angeles. He bought a home in Baltimore County after he became the Orioles owner.

Mr. Weinglass attended Forest Park and City College high schools and one semester at the University of Baltimore. Although he hasn't called Baltimore "home" for some 10 years, Mr. Weinglass grew up on Baker Street just off West North Avenue in West Baltimore.

Although he is pursuing the Orioles alone, Mr. Weinglass said he might be willing to take on partners who would own minority shares.

"I would be the majority stockholder and the managing partner in this," he said. "I'd speak to Merry-Go-Round and see if they wanted a piece, but that's it. I don't want people telling me what to do."

Mr. Weinglass, 49, is the vice chairman of the board and principal stockholder of Merry-Go-Round, the clothing company he helped begin in 1968 with a store in Atlanta. Now, the company has more than 600 stores around the country under seven different names. Last month, Mr. Weinglass held 3.65 million common shares of Merry-Go-Round stock, valued at almost $115 million.

In addition, Mr. Weinglass owns some high-priced real estate. With his wife, Pepper, and their three children -- 2-year-old twins, Bo and Skye, and a daughter, Sage, 4 1/2 -- he lives on a 40-acre ranch 10 minutes from Aspen that he has said is worth $7 million to $8 million. The Weinglass family also owns condos in the town of Aspen, at the Carousel in Ocean City and at the upscale Turnberry Isle resort north of Miami. Mr. Weinglass also maintains an apartment at Cross Keys in Baltimore.

If he is successful, Mr. Weinglass would be an unusual baseball owner. He doesn't look or dress like other wealthy investors who own teams. He often wears skin-tight blue jeans, T-shirts and sneakers, and prefers to wear his gray hair pulled back in a ponytail.

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