Runner-up Loria is real money player

KEN ROSENTHAL

August 05, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

He will be a footnote to history, the New York art dealer who nearly bought the Orioles, only to save himself $173 million. It's obvious Jeffrey Loria has money to burn. For what the Orioles cost, he probably could buy the Louvre.

So, what will this fabulously wealthy runner-up do next? Good question. Few knew that Loria had fallen in love with Baltimore and the idea of owning the Orioles. Even fewer knew that he was quietly confident of getting the team.

Last weekend, Loria visited the city with his wife, Sivia, who also is an art dealer. They toured Camden Yards with Orioles president Larry Lucchino and general manager Roland Hemond, and narrowed their search for a Baltimore residence to two homes in Roland Park.

The day of the auction, Loria said he contacted Mayor Kurt Schmoke about arranging a meeting to discuss his plans for the community. Then, when the bidding opened, it became clear, once and for all, that he was a serious player.

"I always try to keep a low profile," Loria said Tuesday from his apartment on New York's Upper East Side. "I knew what we could do. I wanted to save our talk until the bottom of the ninth inning."

But Loria, owner of the Texas Rangers' Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City, was destined to go down swinging. The outcome of the auction was sealed after Peter Angelos and Bill DeWitt merged ownership groups. Angelos has said that Loria could have bid $200 million, and his group still would have gone higher.

Still, Loria surprised nearly everyone.

In a meeting with Angelos, DeWitt and their attorneys before the auction, a lawyer for club owner Eli Jacobs expressed concern that the Angelos-DeWitt merger would ruin the auction, and lower the payout to Jacobs' creditors. The lawyer assumed -- wrongly -- that no one else would bid.

Why didn't Loria simply join forces with Angelos and DeWitt and save everyone $20 million? Because he wanted control. Three weeks ago, Angelos said, he was contacted by Loria through an intermediary. Loria proposed a partnership, with himself in charge.

"I turned it down immediately," Angelos said. "Loria no doubt is a fine guy, but he's from New York. I wasn't going to share control with a non-Marylander."

So, Loria remained on his own. He still won't name his partners, describing them only as "a couple of friends." But Angelos learned in the days leading to the auction that Loria was approaching local investors, asking for sums less than $1 million.

To Angelos, that meant either Loria was desperate for money, or applying the finishing touches on his ownership group. It turned out to be the latter. Loria maintains he would have been receptive to local investors, even after buying the club.

It never got that far.

Loria stopped at $173 million.

"The numbers didn't work anymore, plain and simple," Loria said. "I know Mr. Angelos said his primary concern is putting the best club on the field. But I'm not so sure paying such an enormous price helps you do that."

That, of course, remains to be seen. Loria publicly wished Angelos and DeWitt luck at the end of the auction. No doubt he'll monitor their ownership closely. He says he hasn't thought about buying another team, but it's obvious he's itching for a bigger stage than Triple-A.

Just listen to Loria describe how he urged the Rangers to sign Fernando Valenzuela last season. His Oklahoma City club eventually won the American Association title. But Loria said: "I thought there was one ingredient missing -- some charisma down the stretch.

"I consider myself a fairly decent judge of people -- not their ability, you have professionals to do that -- but I have a good sense of timing," Loria said. "I sensed this was a guy who was determined to come back, come back, come back."

Loria said he also urged the Rangers to keep Jim Poole -- "I told them, 'You put him on waivers, he's going to disappear.' " None of this means he would have been a good owner. Indeed, he might have been rather meddlesome, the second coming of Edward Bennett Williams.

"He really takes a hands-on approach," Rangers farm director Marty Scott said. "He's a winner -- he wants to win ballgames. He would have done anything possible to make the best possible trades and get the best possible players. He would have been committed to winning."

Loria wanted Baltimore -- "I love the Orioles," he said -- but maybe now he'll focus on another team. Just imagine a future World Series with Angelos and Loria as rivals. It would be the perfect ending to this bizarre saga: a man who saved himself $173 million, seeking revenge.

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