Opening Day may be Jacobs' only reason to party Friends never ask about money woes

April 05, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

An article in yesterday's Evening Sun incorrectly described the status of Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs' case in a New York court. Seven banks filed suit last week in federal court to force him into involuntary bankruptcy. Mr. Jacobs has 20 days to respond to the filing.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

If the financial troubles of Eli S. Jacobs are threatening to take any of the oomph out of Opening Day at Camden Yards, it is difficult to tell so far.

The game has been a sellout for months. President Clinton is expected to show up for the game and to toss out the ceremonial first pitch.


And just as he has during the five years he has owned the Orioles, Jacobs will be marking the return of the baseball season with a party or two.

Yesterday afternoon, Jacobs and syndicated columnist George Will entertained members of the Washington elite, including many politicians and journalists, at a reception at Will's home in suburban Washington. In addition to being an ardent baseball fan, Will serves on the Orioles' board of directors.

This morning, the Orioles are expected to play host to hundreds of guests at an invitation-only event on the sixth floor of the B&O warehouse. Jacobs' name doesn't appear on the invitation, but a New York spokesman for the owner confirmed that he is coming to today's game and "hosting his Opening Day party."

It figures to be Jacobs' last as Orioles owner. Last week, creditors seeking repayments of tens of millions of dollars in unpaid loans filed in court to have the New York investor placed into involuntary bankruptcy. A sale of the team, perhaps to a group of Cincinnati investors, could be days away.

That dark news might be enough to send some team owners into seclusion on Opening Day. But friends of Jacobs say they see no reason for him to shy away from the ballpark or for his money problems to dampen today's festivities.

"What's the problem?" asked journalist Robert Novak, one of those on the guest list for today's warehouse reception. "If he were an embezzler or had some criminal problem, it would be embarrassing. But having financial reverses in this economy is nothing to be ashamed of."

"A man goes on with his life," said Richard Helms, former CIA chief in the Johnson and Nixon administrations and an Orioles board member during the Jacobs years.

"Eli owns the Orioles. Why shouldn't he entertain his friends and be in charge?"

As for Jacobs' financial and legal problems, Helms said that the owner's friends were unlikely to have drawn any conclusions "about such a personal matter."

"It would be wrong for any of us to make judgments about it," Helms said.

The Orioles don't share information about Jacobs' parties, going so far as to decline to reveal what delicacies will be served. In the past, Jacobs has asked that reporters writing about the event not be admitted.

Few partygoers have gone away disappointed from Jacobs' previous ballpark affairs.

At a party kicking off the 1991 Orioles season, the menu featured London broil and smoked salmon served with champagne. Jacobs has an affection for traditional ballpark food, so his guests also have been treated to gourmet hot dogs.

That said, the highlight of any Jacobs party usually is the guest list. With his ties to New York deal-makers and Washington insiders, Jacobs -- and the lure of spending Opening Day at the ballpark -- has lured an endless procession of the rich and famous to Baltimore.

Two years ago, guests at the owner's Opening Day party included Vice President Dan Quayle, several of former President Bush's Cabinet members, even political humor columnist Art Buchwald.

And that was a down year. For Opening Day 1989, the first for Jacobs in the owner's box, his guests included two heads of state -- Bush and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Although Jacobs has said little publicly about those occasions, he has seemed to revel in them and to have more than fulfilled his duties as host to the stars.

"It's part of the fun -- you might say, part of the duty -- of being an owner," said Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to President Carter who accepted an invitation from Jacobs to sit on the Orioles board. "It's owning a team in a town close to Washington where the president is going to be dropping by to throw out the first ball."

Cutler said he spoke to Jacobs recently and said his mood "is brighter than one might have thought." And he added that it came as no surprise to him that the owner would want to gather his friends around for an Opening Day party despite the troubling circumstances he faces in his private life.

"Eli tends just to carry on," Cutler said. "I don't think he is going to drop out of life at all."

Those who don't know Jacobs as well say they're sorry about his problems, but mostly they are excited it's baseball season again. Getting invited to a glitzy party thrown by the owner only adds to that.

"Opening Day has a life of its own," said Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md., XTC one of the regulars on Jacobs' Opening Day list. "We'll all be concentrating on another season starting, an exciting team playing in an exciting facility."

If noted at all by the party guests, Jacobs' problems will come after that, Cardin said, adding, "I don't think it will be awkward in the least."

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