DeWitt finds following he can bank on at opener Mercantile guest meets local movers, shakers

April 06, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Bill Clinton attracted most of the glad-handers and autograph-seekers.

But the president was not the only man of importance to Orioles fans to slip into Baltimore for Opening Day at Camden Yards.

Also in the crowd was a visitor from Cincinnati with more than a passing interest in the home team -- William O. DeWitt Jr.

DeWitt, who leads an investor group trying to buy the team for the past six months, again declined to speak publicly about the status of the negotiations. But from the company he was keeping, it seemed clear he is talking to local business and political leaders about a deal for the Orioles.

On Opening Day, he was the guest of Mercantile-Safe Deposit & Trust Co., sitting in the bank's luxury box and making small talk with the bank's chairman, H. Furlong Baldwin.

Mercantile's backing would be an important advantage for the DeWitt group. The Baltimore bank is owed tens of millions by Jacobs and is expected to have a say in who buys the team and at what price.

Last week, the sale was further complicated when seven banks filed in court to force Jacobs into involuntary bankruptcy. The action means that a bankruptcy judge would have to approve a sale of Jacobs' 87 percent interest in the club.

Before Rick Sutcliffe threw the first pitch of the Orioles season, DeWitt was mixing with local business and political leaders yesterday.

At Baldwin's invitation, Gov. William Donald Schaefer visited Mercantile's luxury suite during the game, in part to meet DeWitt.

As owner Eli S. Jacobs entertained President Clinton in the owner's suite next door, DeWitt also received visits from Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md., who was accompanied by Henry Rosenberg, chairman of Crown Central Petroleum.

Calman Zamoiski, president of the Baltimore-based Zamoiski Co., and Leslie Disharoon, former chairman and president of Monumental Corp., also were among local leaders meeting with DeWitt during the game.

DeWitt declined to speak about the conversations.

The governor said only that the meeting was arranged because DeWitt "wanted to be introduced" and that he'd come away from their first talk thinking that DeWitt seemed like "a very fine young man."

"I didn't ask anything about the sale. I just said I hope everything can be done in a couple weeks. He smiled. That was it," Schaefer said.

Negotiations between DeWitt and Jacobs have been known for months, though neither man publicly has acknowledged the talks.

Last week, Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos also said he is preparing to make an offer for the team. Angelos said the group is made up of local contractor Henry Knott Sr. and two investors he would not identify.

Angelos said early yesterday that he expected to attend the game. He could not be reached for comment later in the day.

DeWitt was one of several members of his investor group invited to the Mercantile luxury box yesterday. He was joined by Dudley Taft and Robert Castellini, both Cincinnati businessmen involved in the Orioles' deal. Mercer Reynolds, another Cincinnati-based member of the group, did not attend the game, DeWitt said.

The group visiting Baltimore also included DeWitt's wife, Kathy, and two of the couple's four children.

DeWitt, Castellini, Reynolds and Taft are minority shareholders in the Texas Rangers -- the Orioles' opponent yesterday. Major League Baseball rules require that they relinquish those shares before purchasing the Orioles.

Orioles president Larry Lucchino also is known to be an investor in the DeWitt group.

Although DeWitt would not answer questions about a sale of the team, he spoke briefly and vaguely about the baseball season.

Of the Orioles, he said: "A good team. Well-balanced. Excellent pitching."

Any weaknesses an owner with an open checkbook might fix?

DeWitt laughed. "I won't comment on that," he said.

He even was reluctant to announce which team he was rooting for in the opener -- the team he owns or the one he hopes to own soon -- for fear of alienating either side.

"I'd better not answer that question. If I say one thing, George [Texas general partner George W. Bush] will be mad. If I say another, someone else will be mad."

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