Angelos assembles group that puts local investors back into the game

WOOING THE O'S

May 21, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Local investors led by lawyer Peter G. Angelos haven't bought the Orioles yet, or even submitted a formal bid for the team.

But even at an early stage, the efforts of Mr. Angelos and his partners seem to be the most serious by local investors since ownership of the team passed to an out-of-towner 14 years ago.

Mr. Angelos has achieved this by relying on investors like himself -- self-made businessmen who have made fortunes in the clothing, movie and publishing industries. And in raising the estimated $140 million needed to bid for the team, Mr. Angelos seemingly has steered clear of large corporations that might move more slowly in responding to a chance to invest in the Orioles.

Baltimore's infatuation with the Orioles' new ballpark, Camden Yards, also seems to have aided Mr. Angelos' efforts and to have stimulated interest among local investors. Not only does the team sell out a majority of its games, but also the ego boost from owning the team probably is far greater than during the Orioles' years at Memorial Stadium.

"The prestige and charisma of the Orioles is so much more than ever before," said Mattias J. DeVito, chairman of The Rouse Co., and a key player in Baltimore's bid for a National Football League team.

The new stadium doesn't fully explain the boom in interest in the Orioles, said clothing-store magnate Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who joined the local group this week.

There's also the lingering sense of loss over the Colts, who moved away nine years ago.

"When I think back, sports wasn't that big. Nobody seemed to care. Then the Colts left, and everybody realized what we'd lost and what the Orioles meant to Baltimore," said Mr. Weinglass.

Playing on those feelings, in part, Mr. Angelos quickly has assembled what appears to be a well-heeled group. Mr. Weinglass brought with him investors who include filmmaker Barry Levinson and real-estate developer Richard Pearlstone. Three weeks ago, Mr. Angelos landed a significant investor when he brought in best-selling author Tom Clancy.

None of the investors will say how much money he will offer for the team. But Mr. Angelos said this week that he expected the proposal would be accepted. And Mr. Clancy added, "I get into things to win."

Some of those watching the Orioles' sale say Mr. Angelos deserves credit for pulling the local group together when it seemed no one else in Baltimore would -- again.

For his part, Mr. Angelos says his effort began in a low-key manner, with private conversations with friends, including Mr. Clancy. Those talks progressed to more concrete discussions and, earlier this spring, Mr. Angelos, a former city councilman and mayoral candidate, went to Annapolis to talk about the plan with an old political ally, Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Mr. Angelos won't say what the two men discussed; only that he asked the governor for a favor having to do with the Orioles.

Mr. Schaefer also won't talk about the meetings -- he hasn't endorsed any group seeking the Orioles. But the governor wouldn't mind if the next owners were from Maryland. Of Mr. Angelos, Mr. Schaefer said recently: "He'd be a good, strong hometown owner. He'd be very aggressive. He'd put money in."

Mr. Angelos' group is one of four that have said they are interested in buying the Orioles from team owner Eli S. Jacobs, who is in personal bankruptcy.

Any sale of the team must be approved by a bankruptcy judge. Next week, Mr. Jacobs is expected to seek approval of a bid from investors led by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr., with whom Mr. Jacobs has been negotiating for more than eight months. The bankruptcy judge might consider other offers.

The two other groups interested in buying the team are led by New York art dealer Jeffrey H. Loria and the owners of the New Jersey-based chain of electronics stores, Nobody Beats the Wiz. Those investors include brothers Douglas, Marvin, Stephen and Lawrence Jemal.

Mr. Angelos said the local investors are interested in joining his group, in part, because of old worries about out-of-towners buying the baseball team.

"In our talks, I've heard the concern over and over that once again this team is going to be purchased by outside interests when it should be controlled by local interests," he said.

In 1979, a group of local investors tried -- and failed -- to raise the $12 million asking price of owner Jerold C. Hoffberger before Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams bought the team. 1988, Mr. Hoffberger's bid to buy the team back fizzled before the offer even had been presented to the sellers.

The lawyer said he did not target businessmen who've earned their own fortunes to join him, though he seems to have gravitated to several investors fitting that description.

Mr. Clancy said that has given the members good rapport, as well as the tens of millions they'll need if they are able to buy the team.

"Show me 10 guys who made it on their own, and I'll show you 10 guys I can do business with," Mr. Clancy said. "We speak the same language."

As for Mr. Weinglass, he said he quickly became comfortable with Mr. Angelos. "We have the same interest in mind: Keep it in Baltimore with local ownership."

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