Orioles front office takes wait-and-see approach for now THE SALE OF THE ORIOLES Lucchino to keep hands-on role

August 03, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The future ownership of the Orioles franchise may have been determined in a bankruptcy court in New York yesterday, but it remains uncertain how that will affect the club's organizational philosophy or the future configuration of the front office.

Baltimore attorney Peter Angelos, who heads the new ownership group, said yesterday that current Orioles president Larry Lucchino would be asked to remain in a leadership role. That would appear to indicate that there will be no dramatic change in the direction of the club, but the news of the sale still left front office officials to wonder how they will be affected.

"I think you just have to wait and see what transpires instead of getting overly concerned," said general manager Roland Hemond. "You just continue to do your job until you get other instructions."

What is known is that the sale will not be final for at least six weeks. In the meantime, the current hierarchy will remain in place, though the new ownership group undoubtedly will be consulted on any major financial decisions or personnel moves.

Even that, however, will not be a major change in the way the club does business, since the group headed by Bill DeWitt (which yesterday merged with Mr. Angelos' group) had been privy to any significant club decisions since its original bid for the team was accepted by owner Eli Jacobs and entered into the bankruptcy proceedings.

Mr. Lucchino confirmed yesterday that the contract of sale between the DeWitt group and Mr. Jacobs called for the group to be notified of any moves that affected the club's financial profile, but it apparently never came to that.

"We did business as usual -- that's the best way I can put it -- recognizing full well the process," Mr. Lucchino said.

There had long been speculation that front office officials were constrained from making any major attempt to improve the club because of the uncertainty of the ownership situation. Team officials have denied that, claiming their reluctance to spend heavily on free agents was consistent with team's conservative fiscal philosophy.

Mr. Lucchino would not speculate on any possible change in that philosophy, nor would he discuss his future role with the team, even though it is apparent that he will continue to be a major player in the club's operation.

"I'm pleased with today's result," he said, "but today belongs to Pete and Bill and all the partners. This is not the time to comment on me or my role. Let's save that for another day."

Mr. Angelos was not so hesitant to talk about it. He said that Lucchino would remain as the club's vice chairman for operations and indicated that the Orioles president would be given the opportunity to buy an interest in the club.

"Absolutely," Mr. Angelos said, "there's no reason why he shouldn't be."

Mr. Lucchino owns 9 percent of the club and will be paid for it out of the proceeds of the sale, but likely will negotiate a deal over the next six weeks to acquire an equity interest in the new ownership group.

Mr. Angelos and Mr. DeWitt both have praised the way the organization has been run under Mr. Jacobs, so it seems unlikely that they'll make major changes in the management team. Mr. Hemond figures to remain in place, with assistant general managers Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson working under him. Mr. Hemond did not seem particularly worried.

"I've been involved in changes of ownership," Mr. Hemond said, "but it was always in the off-season. In my case, having experienced changes of ownership, it is not stressful for me. What I advise everybody is, the only way to proceed is do to your job to the best of your ability the way you have always done it. What transpires later is beyond your control anyway."

The change of ownership could affect everyone in the organization, from the employees on the third floor of the B&O warehouse to the ones who wear the uniforms, but the news of the sale didn't faze manager Johnny Oates. He was preparing for a game against the Milwaukee Brewers when the final bid was announced.

"Down here on the field, we haven't realized it has been going on," Mr. Oates said. "This has been no distraction at all. Maybe if it had been October it would have been different. Now, we'll wait for all the ramifications to sort out and see what happens from here on."

Owner Eli Jacobs never has been very popular with the fans, but he drew praise from several of his employees as he prepared to turn over control of the team.

"It has been a good and productive relationship," Mr. Lucchino said. "We play in the best stadium in the world and this is a prosperous franchise."

Mr. Oates also was complimentary, predicting that Mr. Jacobs will rebound from the financial problems that forced him to sell the team and file for bankruptcy.

"Being the success he is, I'm sure he'll turn everything around," Mr. Oates said. "I hope this is a good starting point for him. He's been awfully good to me."

APPROVAL PROCESS

Now that the $173 million bid for the Orioles has been accepted by Judge Cornelius Blackshear, it goes before baseball's ownership committee, which will review the financial data and background investigation of the ownership group. The ownership committee then will make its recommendation to the rest of the club owners and the sale will be voted upon. For approval, the bid must receive affirmative votes from at least three-fourths of the owners in the American League (10 of 14) and a simple majority of the 14 owners in the National League. That process must be completed before the deal's Sept. 15 closing date.

There is very little likelihood that the group formed yesterday by Peter G. Angelos and William O. DeWitt Jr. will be rejected by the other owners. Much of the background checking already has been done, so the approval process could be completed quickly.

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