Honk if you own some portion of the Orioles

MIKE LITTWIN

August 09, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

I am sitting on a beach somewhere in Delaware in the waning days of my vacation, staring out into the ocean, toward Spain, I think.

What's interesting is that it's the only direction I can look these days and not see a new Orioles owner, unless that pony-tailed dude out there in the surf turns out to be Boogie "Board" Weinglass.

The news arrives here dependably late, and the details sometimes get blurred in the sand and sun block. But the way I see it, to get to the Orioles' final selling price of $173 million, everyone in Baltimore had to agree to be a part owner.

This has not been a problem for most civic-minded folks, although Leslie Hutchinson has apparently asked if a four-party, post-dated check would do.

One hundred seventy three million dollars?

Suddenly, Cal Ripken's measly $6 million doesn't seem so outrageous.

The funny thing about the big cash payoff is that ex-owner Eli Jacobs doesn't get even a taste of it.

You have to love that, if only for the irony involved. Here you've got an ex- owner, who, it was widely believed, was in it just for the money. That's because he was in everything just for the money. It's what he does for a living.

And nobody has ever made more money at baseball than Jacobs.

Talk about putting up numbers. Jacobs owned the team for a little more than four years. On the sale alone, he made over $100 million. The Orioles' yearly operating profits averaged -- this is a conservative estimate -- $15 million. Knock off half that for taxes and accountant's maneuvers and you're looking at maybe $130 million in profits over four years. No one has ever approached that kind of turnaround.

Who gets the money if Jacobs doesn't? Yes, more deserving people -- like bankers and lawyers.

Somebody (obviously not from Baltimore) asked me what Orioles fans had against Jacobs.

He rightly pointed out that the Orioles, under Jacobs, have become one of the premier franchises in baseball. The price tag proves that. The stadium is filled every night. The team is a contender.

What did Jacobs do that was so wrong?

You know the answer. It wasn't that he tried to grab more credit for the stadium design than he deserved. I mean, who didn't? And it wasn't because he was more secretive than Bill Casey.

The problem was that Jacobs didn't care about the product. He spent what he had to. He never spent a nickel more. He never once thought to himself, "Gosh, wouldn't Barry Bonds look nice in an Orioles uniform?" Or even Gary "U.S." Bonds.

The ideal owner understands that the fans who loyally fill the seats deserve some loyalty in return. Of course, Jacobs had other concerns.

His bankruptcy filing is one of those death-of-the-'80s stories about how another leverage-buyout guy goes bust in the Donald Trump tradition. The LBO boys bought things to sell them, often auctioning little parts at a time. I'm sure Jacobs was stunned when he couldn't sell off just, say, left field.

But now he's gone. You like the way that sounds? How about this -- Eli has left the building.

Now what?

Now we've got the Dream Team as owners. We have in managing partner Peter Angelos a "good" lawyer who chases asbestos companies instead of ambulances and who doesn't do TV commercials. How about the odds against that?

We have author Tom Clancy as a major investor and now a team official. I have great respect for Clancy, who can build nuclear submarines in his backyard when most writers I know can't even barbecue.

We have the local celebrity owners like Barry Levinson and Jim McKay and Pam Shriver and Boogie Weinglass. They're all fine people, but what does it say about Baltimore that this is all the star power we can summon up?

Larry "I'll Work for Skybox Food" Lucchino has successfully latched on with the new group. Bill DeWitt brings his Cincinnati investors.

Everyone's happy, for now, or at least until they figure out the owners' skybox seating chart.

What does the new group mean for the Orioles?

Who can tell? But a couple of things are clear. These guys are obviously unafraid to spend money. Boy, are they unafraid to spend money. And they spent it because they wanted to own a winning baseball team in Baltimore. What more could you ask for?

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