Levinson considers buying into Orioles

June 19, 1991|By Mark Hyman

If Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass is successful in buying the Baltimore Orioles, he may be joined in the owner's box by another Baltimore boy who made good.

Barry Levinson, the movie director.

A day after Weinglass publicly acknowledged his interest in buying the Orioles, Levinson said yesterday that "as a Baltimorean and a ball fan, I'd certainly have an interest" in becoming an investor in the group.

Weinglass and Levinson have talked about joining forces in a bid to buy the Orioles from principal owner Eli S. Jacobs, both men said yesterday. Weinglass said he believed Levinson would be interested in owning "a small percentage of the club" that he estimated "somewhere between 5 and 10 percent."

Levinson, whose director's credits include"Avalon" and the 1982 film, "Diner," in which one of the central characters was patterned after his boyhood pal, Weinglass, was reluctant to speak about a possible bid for the Orioles.

"I don't want to say anything that would be premature or overstate the situation in any way," Levinson said from his office in California.

But he acknowledged that there was something appealing about growing up to own the baseball team he adored as a boy.

"When you grow up in that town and the Orioles play that big a part in your life. . . . It would be thrilling to be able to say the team is owned by Baltimoreans," Levinson said.

He added: "Boogie has a real interest in Baltimore and the Orioles. He's always been interested in [owning] the team, and he has the financial position to act on that in a very substantial way. We talked in the last couple of weeks. When he told me about it, I said I'd love to [be involved]."

Weinglass, chairman and principal stockholder of Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc., which operates more than 600 clothing stores around the country, said Monday that he has contacted Jacobs' representatives, the J.P. Morgan & Co. Inc. investment banking firm, to express his interest in the team. Yesterday, Weinglass said he expects to begin evaluating financial records of the team in the next few days.

In a related development, Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad said yesterday that since reports that Jacobs would consider bids for the Orioles first appeared on June 6, he has been contacted by three groups of investors with "strong local ties."

Belgrad wouldn't identify members of two of the groups or talk about his discussions with them. The stadium authority chairman confirmed having talked with Weinglass, the third investor, "because he's publicly acknowledged he's interested" in buying the team.

Belgrad said he has offered the groups information about the new downtown ballpark at Camden Yards while making it clear that the stadium authority isn't aligned with Orioles or with any of the team's potential buyers. "I've never discussed this matter with Eli Jacobs, anyone with the Orioles organization or J.P. Morgan," Belgrad said.

Belgrad said he assumed that two of the investor groups, including Weinglass', were "still investigating" the sale of the team. A third group, Belgrad said, "appears to have lost interest based on speculation [surrounding] the asking price."

Jacobs, who has an 87 percent stock interest in the Orioles, hasn't publicly talked about the price he is seeking for the baseball team.

In December 1988, Jacobs and his partners -- Orioles president Larry Lucchino and Sargent Shriver -- agreed to purchase the team for $70 million and to assume team debts of $16 million to $17 million for deferred player salaries and collusion damages owed by the 26 baseball owners to major-league players.

Belgrad said investors he has spoken to have raised concerns about the possible price and about having to conduct negotiations through an investment banking firm.

"All of the groups indicated that if the franchise were available at a fair market price, they would consider negotiations," said Belgrad, who also said that he had not discussed specific numbers with the investors.

Belgrad added: "Because of the way this is being handled, through a financial institution, some have reservations about whether the franchise really is on the market or whether [Orioles ownership] is just fishing for an inflated price."

Weinglass said he is confident that Jacobs is serious about considering offers.

"He's interested in selling the club," he said. "It wouldn't be fair to Mr. Jacobs [to say more]. But he absolutely wants out."

Jacobs, through a spokesman, said that the investors "are entitled to their own opinions" about his plans for selling the team.

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