'Tis the season for Jacobs to sell


December 06, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

You probably never thought of Eli Jacobs as a particularly giving person. But would you change your mind if he gave you a new owner for Christmas?

pTC Maybe you've already heard the rumor going around town that Jacobs will be selling the Orioles soon, like by the end of the year. Yes, another one of those rumors. There have been many in the last year, with Jacobs selling to just about everyone except the Skipjacks' backup goalie. Nothing to them. Nothing substantive to this one. At least not yet.

But please, feel free to sign up for one of the ad hoc prayer circles that have sprouted up around town. It's making more and more sense that the guy might want to sell, or maybe you hadn't noticed that he keeps getting sued by banks. He would seem to be in a cash crisis. A fat profit on a sale of the Orioles would help.

Maybe then the front office's ideal free agent wouldn't be a minimum 35 years old with a medical chart. Maybe more of the dollars flooding into Camden Yards would flow back out into the kind of talent that would give the Orioles a real chance to make the playoffs. It's only fair.

You can do your part by putting "Eli Sells" at the top of your holiday wish list, ahead even of that official NFL Broken Promises Voodoo Doll, or the imitation Irsay scalp. (Or, in my case, more hair.)

A change in ownership couldn't possibly make the Orioles any tighter with nickels. Admittedly, Jacobs has gotten better, signing Cal Jr., Sutcliffe and Jeffrey Hammonds, and putting some money into the farm system. But he'll never make the extra move you always need to make, like adding a Winfield to a division winner, or a Chili Davis to a already-potent lineup. There will always be one too many holes as long as he owns the team.

But there is reason to believe, or at least hope, that the circumstances could improve if Jacobs were to sell. Just look at the way a change in ownership has awakened four slumbering franchises recently.

The Astros were cheaper than the Orioles before John McMullen sold them to someone named Drayton McLane, who -- I'm not making this up -- made a fortune distributing groceries. Buying 'em wholesale, selling 'em to someone else. Made a killing. Really. (Warning: Do not try this at home.)

Anyway, now the Astros are spending instead of squirreling. They've signed free-agent pitchers Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell. They'll be a lot more interesting next season. It's only fair.

And look what's happening in Seattle. Baseball people have always used the Mariners as the classic low-end franchise that couldn't afford free agency. Well, the people at Nintendo, who bought the team last year, don't seem to agree. Or care. The Mariners have spent $20 million on Chris Bosio and Mike Felder, and signed up a high-rent manager in Lou Piniella.

While the rest of baseball whines endlessly about the impending financial Armageddon, the Nintendos are making a concerted effort to put a better team on the field. And to think that the raging xenophobes in baseball were worried about selling this team to the Japanese. Shoot, the Japanese do it right.

If Jacobs sold to Sony tomorrow, the Orioles would be in fine hands.

The Yankees are the third team making noise this winter, and, of course, they aren't changing owners so much as getting an old one back. George Steinbrenner will be running the team again soon. It's safe to assume he's already pulling the strings. And the Yankees reportedly offered something like $70 million to Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux. Seventy mil! Jacobs spent $78 million to buy the Orioles.

That's a ridiculous sum, of course, and the Yankees can spend like that only because they have a local TV contract some 30 times bigger than Seattle's. And the funny part is that Bonds apparently turned them down to sign with the Giants for $43 million over six years.

You will notice that the Giants changed owners in the last month. Are you starting to notice a pattern?

Even a new owner probably wouldn't have the Orioles in such high-stakes circumstances, and that's OK. Baseball's finances are downright silly. But at least the club might make more of an effort to fill such an obvious hole as a power-hitting right fielder this winter.

Anyway, the key to this wish-list business, it would appear, is to erase any of your preconceived notions about owners. A guy selling food, a convicted felon and the people who sell Game Boy are the ones spending the money right now. Maybe that's not what you had in mind as the ideal owner of your Orioles. It's certainly a far cry from Boogie. But the point is that these days it doesn't really matter who spends the money, just that they do.

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