Victory is sweet, but costly THE SALE OF THE ORIOLES

August 03, 1993|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Peter G. Angelos threaded his way through the crowded sixth floor of the federal courthouse. "Is there a deal?" he was asked.

He smiled. "There's something in the wind," the Baltimore lawyer said, then hurried away.

There was no wind at all in the sweltering building. But when the bidding for the Orioles finally began in Judge Cornelius Blackshear's courtroom after more than a two-hour delay, there was a formidable alliance of Mr. Angelos' band of Maryland investors with a group headed by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr.

The details of that alliance were only hammered out after the scheduled 2 p.m. start of yesterday's auction. While a crowd gathered in Judge Blackshear's courtroom, Mr. Angelos, Mr. DeWitt and their advisers worked in another empty courtroom putting the finishing touches on their agreement. By pooling their groups, both men believed they were an unbeatable combination.

By the end of the day, they were proven right, but the victory was far more costly than either anticipated.

Round after round, Mr. Angelos and Mr. DeWitt apparently believed their bid was the coup de grace. But round after round, the lawyer for New York art dealer Jeffrey H. Loria shot to his feet to top the bid. To the surprise of the Angelos-DeWitt group and the sometimes gasping crowd, Mr. Loria refused to melt away.

"I didn't think he'd be in it with that intensity," Mr. Angelos said.

Standing nearby, Mr. DeWitt, too, acknowledged that the prize had come at an unexpectedly high price. "I'd have to say we're surprised that it went as high as it did," he said.

Even Mr. Loria, owner of the Oklahoma City 89ers, a Triple-A farm team of the Texas Rangers, admitted he wasn't sure he had bid with his pocketbook and not his heart. He wasn't sure the new owners would be able to make a profit. "Maybe a small one," he said.

Mr. Loria, 52, said he didn't expect Mr. Angelos and Mr. DeWitt to have so much staying power, either. "They paid $25 million more than I thought they were prepared to pay," he said.

While Mr. Loria proved to be a surprisingly persistent bidder, the fourth potential buyer, Jean S. Fugett Jr., chairman of TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., never joined the competition. His lawyer failed to make a bid. "We pass," he said again and again, prompting Judge Blackshear to comment at one point, "When are you going to jump in?" Mr. Fugett never did and left the courthouse before the bidding ended.

The public auction was the private culmination of many behind-the-scenes discussions that intensified in the days leading up to yesterday's proceedings. Mr. DeWitt and Mr. Angelos tried to woo Mr. Fugett, a Baltimore-born lawyer and former professional football player, into joining each of their groups. Mr. Fugett said that he was only interested in running the Orioles, not in being a minority partner.

With Mr. Fugett foreclosed to both, Mr. Angelos and Mr. DeWitt began inching toward each other. The sticking point apparently was over which group would have controlling interest in the Orioles.

Mr. Angelos had insisted that the team must be controlled by Marylanders. It was only after Mr. DeWitt settled for being a minority partner that the two groups had a deal.

Still, they needed a final meeting yesterday to work out the details with attorneys and accountants. They also listened to the concerns of a lawyer representing Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs that an alliance would forestall a bidding war and keep the price of the team down.

Mr. Angelos listened quietly while pacing and gazing out a window at New York Harbor. Mr. DeWitt stood leaning against a railing.

With Mr. Angelos and Mr. DeWitt deep in negotiations, Mr. Loria and Mr. Fugett were left to their own devices. A few times, they ended up talking to each other.

After the auction, with sweat glistening on his forehead, Mr. Angelos said he got what he wanted. "I thought from the outset the DeWitt group was a natural to combine with," he said. "The only obvious thing it was lacking was that they weren't local.

"This arrangement ensures that [the owner is] someone who lives here, has roots here and a desire to always see this club be an integral part of Maryland. And it gives us the opportunity to utilize Bill's knowledge of baseball for the benefit of the ballclub and the fans."

For his part, Mr. DeWitt said he was fortunate that he was able to reach a deal with Mr. Angelos. Alone, he acknowledged, his group of investors never would have been able to top Mr. Loria.

Mr. Angelos and Mr. DeWitt said that the final price, though much higher than either anticipated, would not cripple the operation of the team and its capacity to compete for free agents. But Mr. Loria, who never has revealed the identities of his other investors, was not sure the auction hadn't damaged the ability of the club to contend on the field.

"I hope they have the wherewithal to go out and get the players they need, because they have to make adjustments on the field," he said. "Serious adjustments."

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