With Cal signed, it's time for a sale!

MIKE LITTWIN

August 26, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

/TC Don't tell anyone where you heard this, but there's a fascinating little rumor going around these days.

It started when a certain wealthy man from Pennsylvania began consistently showing up in Eli Jacobs' semi-barricaded sky box.

Then, this certain wealthy man from Pennsylvania purchased what those in the real estate biz call a significant property in Baltimore County.

Then, someone who lives in New York who knows someone who knows this certain wealthy man from Pennsylvania told somebody I know that something was going on.

And here's the clincher: Orioles president and minority owner Larry Lucchino has been telling people that nothing is going on.

Therefore . . .

Eli Jacobs is selling the Orioles?

Maybe. Or, conversely, maybe not.

I mean, I don't want you to get your hopes up or anything, but we do know that the Orioles have been on the market for a while, and it makes sense for a lot of reasons to sell the team now, and maybe getting this Cal Ripken contract out of the way was a condition of the sale, and people who know the Orioles seem to think they're trying to tie up a few other loose ends, and, most important, now that the Ripken deal is finally done, we desperately need something to talk about.

So, let's talk about it.

The truth is that there may never be a better time to sell the Orioles. Could they ever be a hotter property than they are now? What's a bigger attraction? You couldn't sell as many tickets to see Woody arm-wrestling Mia than to any midweek Orioles-Indians game. The sellout streak stands at a stunning 43. There are long lines for standing-room tickets. I know someone ++ who traded a couple of Orioles tickets for Springsteen tickets straight up. Imagine.

How many season tickets do you think they're going to sell next year? If you guessed as many as they want, you win the prize.

Will the Orioles raise ticket prices again next season? I'll answer that with another question: Will we hear the term "family values" again?

I remember studying something in school about the law of supply and demand, and the law is all on the Orioles' side. The biggest surprise this season, other than a future Hall of Famer's 56-game homerless streak, is that the Orioles didn't find a way to add a surcharge in the middle of this season.

Yes, they're hot. In fact, maybe the only way to get good tickets for next season is to buy the team.

So, why would Jacobs want to sell?

Whatever the reason, it can't be because he needs the money. I know that because he sues people who say he might need the money, so for the record, let me say now that if, in fact, Jacobs is selling the team, it can't be because he needs the money. I checked with my lawyer, and he said the same thing.

There are other possible reasons for selling.

We can begin with the sure knowledge that payrolls are rising, and that the Orioles' payroll is going to rise more than most, beginning with that major raise for the shortstop who used to hit all the home runs. There is the matter of the upcoming TV contract, which, most analysts are saying, may actually shrink and will almost certainly, in the best case, not grow significantly. It is the TV income, of course, that allows the players' salaries to reach such outlandish heights.

There is also the real possibility the owners will lock out the players at the start of next season, meaning there may not even be a next season.

And we should not forget that Jacobs is a leveraged-buyout guy. That's his business. He buys businesses and sells them, often at a profit. At least, that's the concept.

There was talk that Jacobs was asking $200 million for the Orioles, which is why a lot of people thought he wasn't serious about selling. But if he bought the team for $70 million, he could probably make a profit of something in the range of 100 percent, which, in the '90s, is not too shabby.

In summation (I always wanted to say that, but you'd be surprised how rarely you get the chance), payroll is going up and will continue to rise. Profits, which are at an all-time high, probably cannot go much higher. And, in a few years, it's even possible that they could shrink. You don't expect the Orioles to sell out forever, do you? It's the perfect time to sell. It's buy-low, sell-high season, which is every businessman's favorite time of the year.

Will it happen?

The grapevine says yes. Orioles officials, even privately, say it's nonsense. Common sense says it's possible.

1% Remember, you read it here first.

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