Profiles in dough: Bidders for Orioles are monied bunch

MIKE LITTWIN

June 28, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

OK, class. It's time for you to start taking a more active interest in who's going to own your major-league baseball team.

You know why. If you read any of the sports poets, they will tell you the Orioles are the very soul, the very essence, the very Boog's-barbecue guts of Baltimore, even if all the tickets are taken by Washington lawyers.

The question is: Who do you want controlling said soul, guts etc.? It's that serious.

We know it will no longer be Eli Jacobs. Please, hold your applause to the end. Jacobs is presently going through quite a bad stretch. He is what is known as a formerly rich person, meaning he now takes cabs.

He also gets to see his house sold at auction. And he watches creditors grab at his $18,000 desk, his brass coat hooks and countless other necessities of life. It can get very ugly. I've seen tougher men than Jacobs in just such circumstances begin to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging out at buffet lines.

That's what happens when you hit a run of bad luck and, before you know it, you owe people about $300 million, give or take. Nobody is safe from this kind of disaster. Myself, I'm up to $1,640 and change on the MasterCard.

And, of course, the other thing they're taking away from Jacobs is his/our baseball team, although he gets to hang around long enough to sit in the owner's box at the All-Star Game and maybe munch on hot dogs with the president and ask him for advice on deficit reduction.

We, conversely, get to watch the game at home. But, hey, at least we've got homes.

The idea of auctioning a baseball team is, well, weird. That's what I like about it. They're selling off the Orioles like so many stacks of tobacco or, maybe more appropriately, a stack of Van Goghs.

We've got rich people, I mean really rich people, in bidding that began at a little over $140 million. At last count, one group said it was going to $148.1 million. There's more to come.

Let's handicap the competing bidders:

* We can start with Bill DeWitt, whose group made the first bid. He's from an old baseball family. It was his father who traded Frank Robinson to the Orioles for Milt Pappas in only the dumbest trade ever made. The senior DeWitt said Robinson was an "old 30." Bad news for Frank, the club's assistant general manager who hopes to be general manager someday. I heard the younger DeWitt tell people he thought Robinson was an "old 57."

The baseball people like the DeWitt group. Also, Jacobs seems to like them.

* The group headed by Peter Angelos includes everyone else who ever lived in either Baltimore or Aspen. Angelos, who says he'll bid the $148.1 million, got rich by nailing a bunch of corporate types for hundreds of millions of dollars in asbestos damages. He should be very welcome to the corporate types who own the baseball teams.

Team motto for '94: Come to asbestos-free Camden Yards.

Some of the other investors include Boogie Weinglass, Tom Clancy, Barry Levinson, Pam Shriver, Jim McKay. It's as Baltimore as Anne Tyler, who isn't in the group, and it's a fair question to ask why not. You can join, though. Tell them Boogie sent you.

* Jean Fugett Jr. is chairman of TLC Beatrice and is an ex-pro football player. As far as we know, he hasn't yet made a bid, but he did ask to delay the deadline from July 15 to Aug. 2.

He didn't say why. Maybe he's waiting for the pennant race to heat up.

* Jeffrey H. Loria is an art dealer. Maybe he thinks this is the Van Gogh auction. I never heard of him before. No one I know has ever heard of him. Has he ever been in Baltimore (riding the Metroliner from New York to Washington doesn't count)? If he bTC makes a bid, we'll pay attention.

* My money was on Nobody Beats the Wiz. Because, let's face it, if you've got a name like Nobody Beats the Wiz and you enter into an auction, there's a certain amount of pressure on you.

If you lose, what do you do -- change your name?

To me, if you're an electronics store promising to undersell the competition, you can't have a name like Peter Angelos Beats the Wiz. But Douglas Jemal, who owns the store and is joined by his three brothers, says he'll drop out if the bidding goes higher than $150 million. Meaning, soon enough, we can say, "Nobody remembers the Wiz."

That's the rich-guy lineup. And you thought athletes were overpaid.

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