So, Orioles are rich now, about Cal . . .

MIKE LITTWIN

June 30, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

Eli Jacobs doesn't play shortstop. He doesn't bat third. He doesn't bat at all.

Not that he doesn't contribute.

He consults, and consultants are, of course, the lifeblood of American commerce.

He complains to the commissioner's office that he doesn't get enough credit for the beauty of Camden Yards.

He sits in his luxury sky box and decides whether he wants hollandaise or Bernaise while he chats up the queen/president/ cabinet member du jour.

He asks for -- and receives -- interest-free, penalty-free delays in paying his rent to the city. (Interestingly, before asking the city for a delay, the Orioles offered to settle the rent for a flat rate of $3 million. The Orioles finally paid their rent Thursday -- $3.95 million, or $950,000 more than their generous offer.)

Yes, Jacobs does his part.

And for his services, the Orioles principal owner is projected to do quite well this year. According to figures published in The Sun Sunday and based on team budgeting documents, the Orioles last October projected they would pay E.S. Jacobs & Co. a management fee of $1.325 million. That's for starters. He also figures to benefit nicely from the team's projected operating profit of $18.4 million. As any good accountant could tell you, the Orioles' net income (meaning the money you get to keep) will be significantly lower than operating profit. But unless you're comparing Jacobs to Ross Perot or Evander Holyfield, he seems to be having a pretty good year.

(It should be pointed out that Jacobs' management fee is probably six or seven times higher than Johnny Oates' manager's fee, despite Jacobs' never once having had to figure out the appropriate moment to pull Jose Mesa.)

Now, Cal Ripken.

He does play shortstop. He bats third. He doesn't know Bernaise from Bernice, and yet he has won two more MVP awards than Jacobs.

TC Ripken is making $2.4 million this year.

Who do you think is having a better season for the Orioles -- Jacobs or Ripken?

OK, maybe that's not fair. Owners are entitled to make money. It's the American way, even if most of the money Jacobs is making this season can be attributed to a new stadium the state of Maryland built him for free and even if his thank-you note to this taxpayer must have gotten lost in the mail.

The point is that the Orioles can never, with anything like a straight face, suggest they cannot afford to pay Ripken the $35 million over five years he apparently wants.

If Ripken were to get a $4.6 million raise, that would bring the Orioles' operating profit down to, gosh, maybe $15 million.

They don't need any coins for Cal. If the Orioles let Ripken go, it will be because they choose not to pay him. There is no other explanation available.

You see, the Orioles, once a small-to-mid-market-sized franchise, are now among the big boys. According to estimates from those who claim to know, only the Dodgers and Yankees and Blue Jays and a few other big-city teams are bringing in more money.

The truth in baseball is that teams make very small profits. Where owners typically make their money is in the sale of a team. As an example, Ed Williams bought the Orioles for $12 million in 1979, and his estate sold the team for $70 million 10 years later. Jacobs is said to be willing to sell for $200 million. Realistically, the Orioles might bring $140 million.

So, the Orioles are doing very, very, very well. You might want to add a couple more verys. This is a dream season, with operating profit projected to be double last year's and four times that when Jacobs bought the team in 1989.

The Orioles had their 15th consecutive sellout Sunday, and it's clear to anyone who has stood in a ticket line they're going to draw more than 3.5 million fans. Before the season, the Orioles had projected 3 million fans, revenues of $75 million and an operating profit of $18.45 million, all of which seems pretty conservative now. As it turns out, the Orioles are not only rich beyond our wildest dreams, they're even rich beyond their own.

This should be good news for Orioles fans. If a team can bring in revenues of as much as $80 million, that means that it can compete with most teams for personnel. The Orioles are in an especially favorable position to compete because their payroll is the fourth-lowest in baseball.

The question is: Will they compete?

The answer: We'll have a much better idea when the Cal Ripken negotiations end.

For now, the Orioles are in a pennant race, and even when they lose, management can't be too unhappy.

I mean, you could put this headline on any game in which the Orioles fall short: "Orioles lose, still rich."

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