It's his baby, let Schaefer name it

Ken Rosenthal

September 12, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Oriole Park is a perfectly acceptable name for the new downtown stadium, except for one thing. As the choice of Orioles owner Eli Jacobs, it automatically merits opposition, just on principle.

That apparently is the stance of Gov. William Donald Schaefer in this impasse, which grows more ridiculous each day. As both sides refuse to budge, how many more Soviet republics will go free?

So many choices in this world today.

Gorbachev or Yeltsin?

Oriole Park or Camden Yards?

Schaefer's stand, at least, is understandable. One, he has the better name. Two, his state is building the place. Three, he's tired of the Orioles demanding concession after concession from a region still reeling from the loss of its NFL team.

Jacobs, you ask?

He's entertaining offers for the club, yet is unwilling to dissociate himself from a decision that will have lasting impact beyond his tenure. As usual, one can only imagine his reasons. He refused comment on this matter. The only time he speaks publicly is when it's good for business (re: the sale of the team).

The ballpark lease dictates that the name be chosen jointly by the Maryland governor and Orioles owner. Technically, Jacobs is within his rights. Morally, he should just give in. This isn't one of his leveraged buyouts. It's just a silly name.

But more, more, the Orioles always want more, from the new park itself to rent givebacks to higher ticket prices. The trend began under the previous owner, the late Edward Bennett Williams. Jacobs has elevated it to an art form. The type of thing that should be declared obscene.

You'd think he'd acquiesce simply to claim a rare public relations victory, and sources claim he actually tried. Schaefer, however, rejected the obvious compromise -- Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Good for the governor. The ballpark is his baby. Jacobs merely has custody.

A combined name is not without precedent. In fact, it would make even more sense if Baltimore constructed a second facility for an NFL franchise. The football stadium would receive its own name, and also be located at Camden Yards. The neighborhood would thus be credited two ways.

It works for Royals Stadium and Arrowhead Stadium at the Harry S. Truman Complex in Kansas City. It works for Giants Stadium and the Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. There's no reason it can't work here. Except it amounts to surrender, and this time Schaefer won't give.

The governor, of course, is known for his petulance, and he apparently doesn't care that he's just as guilty as Jacobs in this charade. He staked his political career to resolve the stadium issue. The least the Orioles can do is let him pick the name.

Why is Jacobs so infatuated with Oriole Park? The name is part of Baltimore baseball lore, but he's from New York. It's doubtful he knows much about the old Oriole Park at the northwest corner of 29th and Greenmount. That facility burned down in 1944.

Granted, every team would like to play in a ballpark bearing its own name. Not every team, however, has the Orioles' built-in edge -- namely, a captive public that agreed to fund a new stadium through lottery proceeds and other revenue sources rather than lose its beloved franchise.

Even as the park rises in all its splendor, certain segments of the population still complain it's the product of blackmail. In reality, it's the price for supporting major-league baseball in modern times. A considerable price, but one that must be paid.

Schaefer recognized this before anyone in Baltimore ever heard of Eli Jacobs. He pushed for the necessary ballpark legislation, secured the 15-year lease. Now he's faced with this intruder, not only taking custody of his baby, but insisting on a name. The lease, cry the Orioles, it's in the lease.

The club never minds reworking contract language in its own best interests -- ask those city officials trying to collect rent -- but in this case everything is to the letter. It's downright obnoxious, and guess what? The name is the only thing that hasn't gone the team's way.

One club official insists the impasse continues because both parties are grappling with more urgent matters than the inscription of the ballpark marquee. Meanwhile, Jacobs remains the focus of intense public scrutiny, something he so desperately tries to avoid.

From every indication, he's trying to exercise his will and ego and power, just as he does in the corporate world. Forgive William Donald Schaefer for finally saying, "Enough!" Sometimes you just have to look the bully square in the eye.

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