Baltimorean Jean Fugett wants to buy the Orioles He'd be first black to own a major club

June 04, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Jean S. Fugett Jr., the former pro football player and Baltimore lawyer, is pursuing a bid for the Orioles.

Mr. Fugett, chairman of the billion-dollar TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., a company he took over from Reginald F. Lewis, his late half-brother, "is in the game" to buy the team and is pursuing a deal, a Beatrice spokesman said. He is one of five investors or groups expressing interest in buying the team from Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs, who is in personal bankruptcy.

Mr. Fugett declined to be interviewed for this article. But a former business colleague said yesterday that the executive has already reviewed the Orioles' financial records and that his efforts to buy the team are far along.

If Mr. Fugett, 42, buys the Orioles, he would be the first black to become majority owner of a major league baseball team.

It was not clear yesterday if he planned to use his personal wealth or intended an Orioles deal to be financed by Beatrice, a privately held conglomerate that owns food-related businesses around the world. Other family members might be involved in the purchase, according to the business colleague.

In pursuing the team, Mr. Fugett is renewing a family effort that began with discussions between Mr. Lewis and Mr. Jacobs, the Orioles owner.

Those talks began two years ago and continued sporadically until Mr. Lewis was diagnosed with brain cancer, according to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who said he was a longtime acquaintance of Mr. Fugett.

Mr. Jackson has been critical of baseball management for not moving aggressively to integrate team ownership and recently organized a protest outside Oriole Park.

Mr. Jacobs acknowledged talking with Mr. Lewis, according to a spokesman who said the discussions were "very preliminary" and "did not amount to anything."

When Mr. Lewis died in January, control of the company passed to Mr. Fugett, who was a Beatrice board member but working in Washington as a sports agent and radio talk show host.

Any sale of the Orioles must be approved by a judge in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, which is overseeing the reorganization of Mr. Jacobs' finances.

That process is expected to begin soon when Mr. Jacobs submits a contract to sell the team to investors led by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr. The DeWitt deal could be worth $140 million, according to sources familiar with the talks.

Three other groups have said they are interested in buying the Orioles. Maryland investors, led by Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos, include novelist Tom Clancy and Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who owns the Merry-Go-Round chain of clothing stores.

New York art dealer Jeffrey H. Loria has said he in looking into a bid for the team. And the owners of Nobody Beats the Wiz, a New Jersey-based chain of electronic and recording music stores, say they may also bid.

Mr. Fugett is the only black investor to surface in any of the groups.

From modest roots in Rosemont, Mr. Fugett and his older brother LTC achieved extraordinary success. Mr. Lewis, the oldest of six children, was a gifted athlete at Dunbar High School and college and won a scholarship to Harvard Law School, practiced law in Baltimore before moving to New York and starting his own law and investment firms.

When he died at the age of 50, he was described as among the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth of $400 million.

Mr. Fugett attended Cardinal Gibbons High School, where he didn't try out for the football team until his senior year. He caught on quickly, though, starring as a tight end and leading the team to a 7-1-1 record.

After high school, Mr. Fugett went on to Amherst College, where he excelled on the football and basketball teams and served as executive editor of the student newspaper. At 20, he was the youngest Amherst graduate in the class of 1972. After his sophomore year, he worked as a summer intern for the Orioles.

He also worked as an intern at The Sun.

After college, Mr. Fugett turned his attention to professional football, winning a spot with the Dallas Cowboys. He went on to play eight seasons in the National Football League, with the Cowboys and Washington Redskins, before retiring in 1979.

While playing football, Mr. Fugett worked as a sports reporter for the Washington Post and then enrolled in law school at the George Washington University.

In 1981, two years after he retired from the Redskins, he had his law degree and was off on a new career as an attorney. He worked for his brother's New York law firm before returning to Baltimore in 1985 to start his own firm. Four years later, the business dissolved and he started a sports agency firm.

In January, Mr. Fugett took over as Beatrice's chairman, just days before his brother's death.

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