Orioles bidders played to win Hardball deal-making clinched the team for Maryland group THE DEAL FOR THE ORIOLES

August 08, 1993|By Michael Ollove and Mark Hyman | Michael Ollove and Mark Hyman,Staff Writers Staff writer Ian Johnson and editorial assistants Marc Bouchard and Maani Martin contributed to this article.

Peter G. Angelos sat in a Manhattan courtroom last Monday watching irritably as a New York lawyer tried to scuttle five months of arduous work and keep him from getting his hands on the Baltimore Orioles.

The man kept shooting to his feet like some kind of human piston, amazing the crowd with bids that were higher, ever higher.

It was almost unfathomable. Only moments before he had arrived in the courtroom, smiling and greeting well-wishers, Mr. Angelos, 64, had been down the hall striking what he believed would be the final blow. He had reached an agreement with Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr., effectively eliminating the man he regarded as his most formidable rival for the team. Some in that room had believed that alliance would scare off other bidders when the auction began.

With sweat slipping down his creased face, Mr. Angelos eyed the youthful man sitting beside the New York lawyer. He had misjudged Jeffrey Loria. He had never seriously believed the New York art dealer would be a real factor. Mr. Loria was sitting restlessly in his chair as his lawyer again and again topped Mr. Angelos' latest bid, chasing him to $160 million, $165 million, $170 million.

"Look at this son-of-a-bitch," Mr. Angelos grumbled under his breath. "When is this going to end?"

It would not end, Mr. Angelos was determined, in his own capitulation. He later said that he had no number in mind as his ceiling. But he also knew that after a certain point in the bidding, he was on his own. From then on, it was all his money; he was putting up only his own additional funds, not those of his co-investors.

Finally, after 45 nail-biting minutes and in the 16th round, Mr. Angelos' attorney, George Stamas, rose to his feet to bid the equivalent of $173 million. (The bid was actually $174 million, but the Angelos group was given a $1 million credit for legal work in drafting the contract.)

Mr. Loria then stood and turned to Mr. Angelos. "I want to congratulate the Baltimore group," he said in a gracious concession. The courtroom erupted in applause.

Later, Mr. Loria said he doubted that the team was financially worth the price. But then, Mr. Loria was bidding for a baseball franchise. Mr. Angelos was bidding for a franchise and an ideal. His pursuit of the Orioles, begun as a crusade to return the team to local ownership, never wavered from that goal.

In a lengthy interview last Wednesday, Mr. Angelos acknowledged the final price may not have been prudent. "I said that we may very well pay a premium in order to bring ownership and control of the ballclub to Maryland," he said. "I had every intention to see that this team did not go to an out-of-state group."

He obtained the team, of course, because in the end, his group was willing to pay more than anyone else. Yet the Angelos effort began last spring as a long shot, fraught with tension and uncertainty.

DeWitt looked like a lock

Ever since December, the word had been that Orioles owner Eli S. Jacobs, whose personal finances were in disarray, had a deal with Mr. DeWitt, a businessman and investment banker who owned a 4 percent share of the Texas Rangers.

Initially, the DeWitt deal seemed a lock. Mr. Jacobs wanted him. The creditors wanted him. And, because of his past affiliation with baseball -- his father was an executive with the Cincinnati Reds and one-time owner of the St. Louis Browns -- Major League Baseball probably wanted him as well.

So Mr. Angelos, the son of Greek immigrants, held back. "I felt that I was obliged out of courtesy to both parties to refrain from intruding," he said.

As winter ended, though, there still was no announcement of a sale. Mr. Jacobs' creditors were involved in the talks and had become divided over whether to approve the deal. Secured creditors, who would be among the first to have their loans repaid, wanted the sale to the Cincinnati investors completed quickly. But those with unsecured loans had doubts and began lengthy negotiations with the DeWitt investors to sweeten the deal.

By then, Mr. Angelos had two heavyweight financial backers -- Henry Knott Sr., an influential Baltimore contractor, and Tom Clancy, the best-selling writer. They were all becoming increasingly impatient.

"[The DeWitt deal] simply wouldn't close," Mr. Angelos said. "There was going to come a time that we were going to make a proposal."

Except that it was impossible to get anyone to listen. Mr. Jacobs' creditors seemed totally absorbed in a DeWitt deal, even though Mr. Angelos suggested he was willing to pay more. "The attitude was, 'We have a good buyer . . . no others need apply,' " he said.

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