New Era for the Orioles

August 04, 1993

The price may have been astounding, but control of the Baltimore Orioles baseball club is now back in local hands. That is a happy outcome. True, Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos and his Maryland partners are sharing ownership with a group headed by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt, Jr. But Mr. Angelos will be the dominant partner, and he has pledged to behave as a local owner with his heart in the community.

There was emotion as well as cold economics in the winning Angelos/DeWitt bid. The $173 million price was far higher than anyone, including the main investors, anticipated. Mr. Angelos was determined to bring ownership of the Orioles franchise back home to stay. Mr. DeWitt, whose father owned the old St. Louis Browns, was set on getting a larger stake in a baseball team than the tiny interest he now has in the Texas Rangers.

Does that mean they let their emotions run away with their business judgments? Well, they had company. Though Jean S. Fugett Jr., whose business interests are being battered by European currency fluctuations, dropped out, a third contender stayed in. Jeffrey H. Loria, a New York art dealer and owner of a minor league ball team, pushed the price up with a surprising persistence. He's an ardent baseball aficionado who may have bid a little beyond strictly business judgment.

But only a little. That should relieve Orioles fans who are concerned the Angelos/DeWitt group will not have enough money left over to enhance the team on the field, or may even be forced to boost ticket prices. Yet the presumptive new owners still have other hurdles to cross.

They need approval from the other baseball owners. Both partners passed muster before they were given confidential information on which to base their bids. Still, Major League Baseball will have to be satisfied the winners did not overtax their financial strength in bidding the record price.

And these owners, who insist on having one controlling partner per team, will take a hard look at what could prove to be a top-heavy management structure. While Mr. Angelos will be the managing partner, he is delegating some as yet undefined responsibility for baseball matters to the more experienced Mr. DeWitt. Remaining in place are Larry Luchino, to oversee day-to-day operations, and Roland Hemond, a seasoned general manager. That's a lot of hands on the helm.

Ultimately how well the Angelos/DeWitt team works will depend on something even they don't know yet. They appear to have hit it off well, but both are strong personalities. Even with the decidedly minority interest Mr. DeWitt will have, the personal relationship he develops with Mr. Angelos will be key. For now, though, we can rejoice in having our team in home-grown hands once again.

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