Another would-be buyer joins chase for Orioles N.Y. art dealer owns Okla. team

April 29, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Jeffrey H. Loria, a New York art dealer and owner of a minor-league baseball team in Oklahoma City, says he is seriously considering a bid to buy the Orioles.

"I've watched the club with great affection for years and years," Mr. Loria said this week. "As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the three great franchises in all of sports. For me, it's the Yankees, Orioles and Boston Celtics."

Mr. Loria, who previously explored the purchase of two other major-league teams, said he has no partners in a possible purchase of the Orioles, although several investors might be added later.

He said his efforts to buy the Orioles date back two years, when he first discussed a sale with team owner Eli S. Jacobs. That effort didn't progress very far because Mr. Jacobs didn't seem interested in selling then, Mr. Loria said.

In recent weeks, the art dealer has renewed his pursuit. He said he expects to review updated Orioles' financial records soon. Then he can decide whether to pursue a deal, he said.

Counting Mr. Loria, three investor groups are known to be interested in buying the Orioles from Mr. Jacobs, who is in personal bankruptcy with debts of more than $300 million. Any sale of the Orioles -- Mr. Jacobs' chief asset -- must be approved by a bankruptcy judge. Mr. Jacobs' arrival in bankruptcy court has encouraged new investors to come forward because the judge can review any offer for the team, not just one from a buyer picked by Mr. Jacobs.

William O. DeWitt Jr., a Cincinnati businessman, leads a group that has been negotiating with Mr. Jacobs for more than six months. The DeWitt investors have offered to pay about $140 million for the team, according to sources familiar with the sale talks.

More recently, a Baltimore lawyer, Peter G. Angelos, has said he is leading a group of local investors that includes writer Tom Clancy.

Mr. Loria, 52, is a lifelong New Yorker who lives on the fashionable Upper East Side of Manhattan, one block from Central Park. His wife, Sivia, also is an art dealer.

In art circles, he is said to be a leading private dealer of 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculptures. One of his biggest sales occurred six years ago, when he helped a private collector from Wichita, Kan., sell a collection of sculptor Henry Moore's works to a Japanese museum for $50 million.

"It was a very big deal. Before that, it would have taken you a whole trainload of art to get to $50 million," said George Ablah, the collector.

Mr. Loria brushed aside questions about his personal wealth, saying it is a private matter.

Given his stature in the art world, he could have a significant amount of capital, according to people familiar with art dealing. Commissions can be substantial, with dealers sometimes collecting 10 percent to 20 percent, an art museum executive knowledgeable about such sales said.

And Mr. Loria's handling of a prominent artist such as Mr. Moore suggests he has access to money for acquisitions, said Tom Freudenheim, a former director of the Baltimore Museum of Art who now works for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Mr. Loria is likely to be better known to baseball fans as the owner of the Oklahoma City 89ers, a Triple-A franchise affiliated with the Texas Rangers.

He leads investors who bought the 89ers four years ago for a reported $4.5 million to $5 million. Other owners have included Marvin Goldklang, a limited partner in the New York Yankees, comedian Bill Murray and former New York Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer. Mr. Loria now owns about 75 percent of the team.

Mr. Loria has been a tireless promoter, urging local corporations to get behind the team by purchasing more season tickets. He's also been a supporter of proposals to build a new, publicly financed stadium for the 89ers in Oklahoma City.

For several years, Mr. Loria has had his sights on moving up to owning a major-league team. In the late 1980s, he considered buying the Rangers. The team eventually was sold to a group including Mr. DeWitt.

Mr. Loria said his interest in owning the Rangers waned because he was reluctant to move to Texas. He never made an offer for the team.

In 1990, Mr. Loria briefly was linked to a bid to buy the Montreal Expos. Mr. Loria said he was prepared to invest $25 million toward the $100 million needed to buy the National League team. The effort languished, in part because of reluctance of the team's owners to sell to Americans, Mr. Loria said.

Mr. Ablah said he always thought Mr. Loria would end up owning his hometown team, the Yankees.

"He has tried repeatedly to buy them, as far as I know, and not been able to get it done," Mr. Ablah said. "He loves baseball. He really has a yearning to get a team."

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