H. Meyerhoff joins DeWitt Fugett thinks over O's bid

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

Baltimore businessman Harvey "Bud" Meyerhoff yesterday joined a group trying to buy the Orioles, while Jean S. Fugett Jr., head of another group, was deciding whether to bid for the club.

Meyerhoff has joined a group led by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr. that is attempting to buy the team from owner Eli S. Jacobs.

Meyerhoff, chairman of a Baltimore-based investment company, Magna Holdings Inc., and former chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, has been in talks with the DeWitt group for several months, and decided to join it recently, DeWitt said yesterday.

Neither DeWitt nor Meyerhoff would disclose the amount of money being committed to the group by Meyerhoff. But the local investor indicated he would have a relatively small share, saying: "I will be a limited partner and a joyful one."

Meyerhoff said he did not know DeWitt well, but was approached about joining the group by H. Furlong Baldwin, chairman ofMercantile Bankshares Corp. and a backer of DeWitt's efforts.

Meyerhoff said he also had been approached by other groups seeking the team, but "only after I had made a commitment to the DeWitt group."

Also yesterday, Fugett, chairman of billion-dollar TLC Beatrice International Holdings Corp., who also is pursuing a deal for the team, spoke for the first time publicly about his interest in owning the Orioles.

Fugett, an ex-Baltimore lawyer and pro football player, said his advisers are studying Orioles financial records, and he will

submit an offer to buy the team only if he is convinced the club is a good investment.

"It has got to be something that will do for me what it did for Jacobs, offer that kind of growth," Fugett said.

Jacobs bought the Orioles for $70 million in 1989. The sale of the team is being overseen by a New York bankruptcy judge, who is expected to select the new owners at an Aug. 2 hearing. The DeWitt group has submitted a bid of $146.25 million, and Maryland investors led by Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos say they will top that with an offer of $148.1 million. It is possible that bidding for the team could go higher.

Fugett would be the first black to be a majority owner of a major-league baseball team. But he seemed reluctant to talk about the importance of that milestone, saying, "The historians would have to judge that.

"Most of us still are striving for a color-blind society where everyone can benefit on the grit and dint of hard work and ability. Hopefully, we'll decide to bid, and our bid is an acceptable bid," Fugett said.

In pursuing the Orioles, Fugett, 41, is renewing a family effort to buy the baseball team that began with talks between Jacobs and Reginald F. Lewis, Fugett's late half-brother.

Those talks began more than two years ago, and continued sporadically until Lewis, TLC Beatrice's founder, was diagnosed with brain cancer, Fugett said. Lewis died last January.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Fugett said the talks between his half-brother and Jacobs were "extremely serious" and "never really terminated" until Lewis' illness. Fugett cited several reasons for his own interest in buying the team, including being a longtime Orioles fan and a brief stint he served with the team in the 1970s as a summer intern.

"Obviously, having grown up in Baltimore, being a lifelong fan and a former employee -- there's not many chances to get involved in [owning a company] like that," Fugett said.

Fugett, who played for the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, said he was considering several options to finance the team.

"We have a lot of ways to do it. The company or our family could do it," he said, adding that his brother, Anthony, would be an investor.

"We've had a number of calls from people all over the country trying to get into a group if I decide to lead one, people in entertainment and financial worlds and professional people. I was really surprised at the level of interest this thing generated."

Five groups have said they are interested in buying the Orioles from Jacobs, who is in personal bankruptcy with debts that exceed assets by more than $170 million.

In joining the DeWitt group, Meyerhoff said he was supporting a team that is "vital to the fabric of Baltimore.

"We've had season tickets since the [St. Louis] Browns came to Baltimore in 1954. . . . We're delighted to be a part of it."

Meyerhoff joins other local investors in the DeWitt group, including: Leslie Disharoon, former chairman and president, Monumental Corp.; John Claster, president of Claster Television Inc.; John H. LaPorte and James S. Riepe, managing directors of T. Rowe Price Associates Inc.; and Bruns Grayson, an executive at Alex. Brown & Sons. DeWitt added that Alex. Brown intends to make a corporate commitment.

Meyerhoff was one of two investors added to the DeWitt group yesterday. The other, New York investor Terry Andreas, is a prominent philanthropist and serves on the board of trustees of Boston University, DeWitt said.

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