Orioles: dealing in the sunshine

April 23, 1993

The bankruptcy of the Orioles' principal owner, Eli Jacobs, has a silver lining for baseball fans here. The intensely secretive Mr. Jacobs is known to be negotiating the sale of the club, but not much is known about the specifics. The prosperous baseball organization may well be the most valuable asset he has, and thus it is an object of intense interest to his creditors. That interest will force the last stages of a sale into public view.

Mr. Jacobs may well already have reached an agreement with the group headed by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt BTC Jr. Or they may still be haggling over terms. Or some of the creditors, seeing the the sale as their best chance of recouping more of the loans they made to Mr. Jacobs, may be balking at an agreed price in hope of getting it increased. Or some other

potential buyer may have come to the table. Or none of the above.

Whatever the facts turn out to be, Mr. Jacobs' new legal position means that the sale of the club -- or of Mr. Jacobs' 87 percent interest -- will have to be approved by a bankruptcy court in New York. That means the public -- government officials as well as ordinary fans -- will have a much better idea of what is going on.

In the bankruptcy court proceedings interested parties can object to any deal Mr. Jacobs reaches. That could open the door to a local group, such as the one headed by Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos, which seems to have been given the cold shoulder by Mr. Jacobs thus far. A bidding contest, which might conceivably result from the bankruptcy proceedings, could accomplish more than just driving up the price of the club. Local ownership of the franchise is still a barely discernible dream, but it may no longer be an impossibility.

Since the Orioles themselves are not bankrupt -- far from it -- they are involved in the legal case only as an asset. That appears to assure local fans that the ball club's commitment to its new home in Camden Yards is not threatened, whoever eventually buys the team. The club's lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority requires that a purchaser agree not to move the franchise before the year 2021. It specifically prohibits a transfer "for the benefit of creditors." Even if a bankruptcy judge had other ideas, major league owners would have to approve a move. They're as likely to move a team setting records for sell-outs as they are to hold the World Series in Tokyo or Havana.

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