Baseball keeps watchful eye on Jacobs Selig, Brown aware of creditors, sales bid

February 18, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

PHOENIX -- For the first time, a major-league official acknowledged yesterday that baseball owners are aware of -- and are closely monitoring -- the financial problems of Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs.

Although he declined to discuss specific steps owners may be taking, Bud Selig, chairman of the executive council and baseball's de facto commissioner, said he and American League president Bobby Brown speak often with Jacobs about the team.

"Baseball is aware of the problem. There has been a lot of communication between Dr. Brown and Mr. Jacobs, and between Mr. Jacobs and myself. We're sensitive to all those problems," Selig said yesterday at the close of a two-day owners meeting devoted mostly to labor and scheduling issues.

Jacobs, who did not attend these owners meetings, hasn't talked publicly about his plans for the team. But the owner is under mounting pressure from creditors to sell his 87 percent interest. He has been involved in protracted negotiations to sell the team to a group led by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr., though neither side publicly has said as much.

What steps baseball owners could take to expedite a sale are not clear. The owners, for example, seemingly have little authority to force Jacobs to sell or to play a role in negotiations between Jacobs and his creditors.

They can keep a close watch over the team -- and apparently they are. Selig and Brown are deeply involved. Jacobs' financial affairs also are being closely followed by the American League's Washington-based lawyer, William Schweitzer, according to sources familiar with his role.

The owners could become more deeply involved if Jacobs' problems began to affect the Orioles directly. In the past, baseball has blocked attempts by some owners to sell off their best players for large cash payments.

But Selig, president of the Milwaukee Brewers, an Orioles rival in the AL East, said he saw no evidence that Jacobs' problems had in any way damaged the team.

Just the opposite, said Selig, who called this year's team "a very competitive club."

"They won 89 games last year -- only a few games behind us. And they've made changes to the club," Selig said. "I don't think they are at all uncompetitive."

That the Orioles had been relatively quiet during the off-season -- acquiring two major players while others in the division underwent more dramatic changes -- didn't alarm Selig either, he said.

"Frankly, the pattern is the same," Selig said. "That is the way Mr. Jacobs has run the club for three or four years. They haven't made a lot of moves in any winter and have been remarkably competitive."

By far, Selig's remarks are the most expansive made by a baseball official about Jacobs and his financial problems.

Brown and Schweitzer, the AL lawyer, have declined to comment on Jacobs or their roles in keeping track of the owner's efforts to sell.

And owners asked this week about Jacobs either said they did not know about his problems or declined to discuss them.

"I heard his home was being foreclosed on and that he can't be reached in his office. Beyond that, I don't have any comment," said Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the Chicago White Sox.

Two of Jacobs' most recent problems involve his Owings Mills house and New York office. Jacobs stopped making payments on the $2.25 million house last September or October, according to court documents. It is scheduled for auction Feb. 26.

Jacobs also is being sued by his landlord in New York, who claims that he owes back rent of $543,000.

Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten also responded with a "no comment," when asked if he was familiar with Jacobs' problems.

Then he added: "Some issues I know instinctively not to get involved in."

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