Judgment day here, but who's Mr. Right?


August 01, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Eli Jacobs locks himself in the warehouse, helps himself to one final Camden Club shrimp cocktail and sniffs, "Let them eat Boog's." But the angry mob will not be silenced. No longer are Les Miserables chanting, "We want Mike." Now, they're crying, "Here comes the judge."

All right, it's not the French Revolution revisited, but at long last, the day of reckoning is upon us. The fate of the Orioles rests not with Cal Ripken, but with a bankruptcy judge in New York named Cornelius Blackshear. The club will be auctioned tomorrow afternoon, with the bidding starting at close to $150 million.

Cornelius Blackshear? He isn't listed in The Baseball Encyclopedia. His biography does not include his speed from chambers to bench, nor state whether he swings the gavel left or right. For all anyone knows, he thinks Oriole Park is a bird sanctuary. Worse, he probably saw one baseball game in his life, and now harbors a secret passion for the New York Yankees.

Think of it -- a Yankee-loving judge auctioning a team owned by a Boston Red Sox fan in a sport run by the Milwaukee Brewers owner. Not to worry or anything, but Toronto manager Cito Gaston would be the only missing conspirator. No doubt Gaston will offer Blackshear a spot on next year's All-Star team if he approves a sale to the "wrong" people.

Which raises the question, who are the right people? Is it Bill DeWitt and Co., a group with roots in baseball but not Baltimore? Or is it Peter Angelos and Co., a collection of every local celebrity who can afford club seating, with the exception of off-beat filmmaker John Waters?

Those are the principal contenders. Of course, the way the auction is set up, Michael Jackson could stroll in with his pet llama tomorrow and walk away with the club. That would make Jackson the King of Pop-Up, and the Orioles would become the first team in history to wear white gloves.

But back to the locals. Waters would have added a certain flair to the annual highlight film, but there's always Barry Levinson to pinch hit. The big question now is whether Pat Sajak will join Angelos. Just think, Vanna White could be the third-base coach, and instead of putting three men on third every four decades, the Orioles would try it every four minutes.

Pam Shriver, Jim McKay, Tom Clancy -- they're all in. So are Levinson, Boogie Weinglass and countless others. It's nice so many want to buy the hometown team, but who would run this show? Boogie seems the logical candidate. The scary part is, he's a knucklehead fan like the rest of us, distinguished only by his ponytail and millions.

Indeed, the first pennant race under local ownership could be more chaotic than the first 100 days of the Clinton White House. Right now, Angelos and Co., are so focused on getting the team, they probably would have no idea what to do next. The inevitable bickering would make for great copy, but not great management.

That said, the locals still are preferable to DeWitt, if only because their hearts are in the right place. Heck, DeWitt wouldn't even be interested in the Orioles if he had a chance to buy his hometown Cincinnati Reds. Besides, what's the big advantage about someone from a baseball background? To hear some of the owners tell it, the sport belongs on a respirator.

DeWitt holds about a 4 percent interest in the Texas Rangers, a club run on a tight budget. His father is the guy who traded Frank Robinson to the Orioles for Milt Pappas. Maybe he'd be the ideal owner, steady and strong. Then again, maybe he'd be a disaster, spending all his days plotting to overthrow Marge Schott.

We know one guy who's rooting for DeWitt -- club president Larry Lucchino. For a time, it appeared Lucchino was a member of every group, but now it appears his best chance is with DeWitt. That's why many club employees privately are rooting for the out-of-towner, figuring the presence of Lucchino would make for a stable transition.

The great fan hope is that the new owner will make a dramatic statement with a major trade or free-agent signing, but even if the locals win out, don't hold your breath. The record purchase price seems almost certain to leave the new owner strapped. Then again, the front-office paralysis can't be any worse than it was in the final months under Jacobs.

Whatever, a new era is upon us. Walk into the warehouse tonight, and you might find Jacobs and Lucchino kneeling in prayer, a la Nixon and Kissinger. "My creditors, my creditors," Eli would say. "My job, my job," Lucchino would respond. Do I hear $150 million? Take it away, Cornelius Blackshear.

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