Fugett rebuffs offers to join 2 other groups ALL-STAR GAME July 13 1993 Baltimore

July 14, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Jean S. Fugett hasn't bought the Orioles or even submitted a bid for the baseball team.

But Fugett, whose credentials include heading the world's largest black-owned company and playing in the NFL, is emerging as a key figure in the sale of the Baltimore baseball team.

Recently, two competing groups of investors have met with Fugett, seeking to persuade the Baltimore-born businessman and lawyer to abandon his bid for the Orioles and to join as a partner in their efforts.

Last month, William O. DeWitt Jr. flew to France to meet with him while Fugett attended a meeting of his international food company, TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc.

Fugett also met in New York recently with Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos, who leads a group of Maryland investors trying to buy the team.

As he watched the All-Star Game at Camden Yards last night, Fugett said he told both investors that he isn't interested in joining them now.

"I'm interested in leading a group, and I've invited them to join me," Fugett said in a brief interview.

The Orioles are expected to get new owners next month. Present owner Eli S. Jacobs is in personal bankruptcy with debts exceeding his assets by about $170 million.

Five groups of investors have expressed interest in buying the team, and a New York bankruptcy judge is expected to consider final offers for the team at a court hearing Aug. 2.

DeWitt, who watched last night's game from a sky box with other investors in his group, said of Fugett: "If he decides not to bid on his own, we'd certainly like to talk to him about being part of our group."

DeWitt declined to answer specific questions about his contacts with Fugett.

Angelos, who leads a group that includes clothing-store magnate Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and novelist Tom Clancy, said he met with Fugett about three weeks ago in New York, and he'd encouraged Fugett "to join with the rest of the Baltimore and Maryland investors in our group."

Angelos said he considered Fugett an attractive addition to the local group for several reasons, including his Baltimore ties.

Fugett was born in Baltimore, attended high school here and had a law practice in Baltimore during the 1980s. He took over Beatrice in January, after the death of Reginald Lewis, Fugett's half-brother and the firm's former head.

"He's a Baltimorean. His family lives here. He's very unique, a fine young man," Angelos said of Fugett.

Angelos, who entered the bidding for the Orioles last March, saying the team needed local owners, said he told Fugett that, "I do not intend to compete with him for ownership of the Orioles.

"My announced goal has been to ensure that the owners of the team are local owners, and he is a Marylander beyond question," said Angelos, who also attended last night's game.

"A lot depends on who is in his group, and who is in control of the destiny of the Orioles. If I am convinced that someone like Jean Fugett would be calling the shots in every way, I would consider deferring to his initiative," the Baltimore lawyer said.

Angelos added, however, that a decision to defer to another local group could not be made without consulting with his partners, including Weinglass, Clancy and movie director Barry Levinson.

Neither Clancy nor Weinglass was thinking about bowing out of the Orioles bidding last night.

"I was with Peter last night -- we're going after it," Weinglass said from his box seats beyond the third-base dugout.

"I've never heard a bad thing about him [Fugett] -- undoubtedly, he's a great guy. But what's that have to do with anything?" said Clancy, attired in shirt sleeves and a green pinstripe All-Star cap. "We're serious about buying this team."

Jacobs paid $70 million for the Orioles in 1989, and the next owners are almost sure to pay $150 million. The top price ever paid for a baseball franchise is $125 for the Seattle Mariners last year.

Last month, Jacobs agreed to sell the team to DeWitt for $141.3 million. The price increased about $7 million during a court hearing last month, as the DeWitt and Angelos investors traded bids before the bankruptcy judge. The price is expected to climb still higher when the judge considers final bids next month.

Asked if he would be surprised by a final price of $160 million, Clancy said he would.

"You're buying a baseball team, not a Picasso," he said. "It's an operating business. You've got to get your money back and make a modest profit."

Weinglass differed, saying $160 million could happen. "I wouldn't like it, but I wouldn't be surprised," he said.

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