If he leaves Orioles, Lucchino's options run to top of game

John Steadman

September 01, 1993|By John Steadman

That Larry Lucchino isn't likely to be empowered with the same authority he has previously enjoyed as the president of the Orioles, plus the fact his percentage of ownership could let him leave with between $9 million and $14 million, leads to the conviction he will do one of three things:

* Return to the full-time practice of law with the Washington firm ++ of Williams & Connolly.

* Let it be known he would entertain the possibility of accepting the commissionership of baseball.

* Actively head a group seeking to acquire a National League expansion team for Washington, in the future, when the time is right.

2 Lucchino might prefer to continue as head of the Orioles, a role he has fulfilled since the illness of the late Edward Bennett Williams in 1988 (nine years before that he was the team's legal counsel) and through the regime of the present owner, Eli Jacobs, but this doesn't fit the scenario constructed by this reporter.

Since Jacobs is selling the team and a record bid of $173 million was entered by Peter Angelos, it's not expected Lucchino will retain the club presidency in any front-office realignment that is put in place. It doesn't seem Angelos would pay a record amount for a sports franchise and have someone other than himself in charge of the operation.

This isn't to mean Angelos is disenchanted with Lucchino; nor enthralled, either. It's a fresh start, as it was when Williams bought out the former owner, Jerry Hoffberger. It's believed Lucchino, perceptive enough to read the situation, may want to withdraw from any arrangement that makes him less than the leader and spokesman for the franchise, which he has been doing since Williams became seriously ill and told him to handle the reins.

Jacobs, the owner who followed Williams, was reluctant to be out front taking bows and pumping hands. He thus permitted Lucchino a prominent presence with the press and public.

The Lucchino input was strong. His ownership was either 9 or 10 percent, which made his holdings far less than Jacobs, who had full control but let Lucchino call most of the signals.

Whether Jacobs was pleased or unhappy with the performance of Lucchino isn't known. He never went public with his thoughts. Under Lucchino's direction the team was in the black every year and went from a marginal profit-maker to one that became a prime leader in the money-earned standings.

The major leagues are supposed to vote on the Angelos jTC purchase in mid-September. It will be interesting to see if Lucchino or Jacobs represents the Orioles in what will possibly be the final official act for the outgoing regime.

At present, Lucchino is in control but if he finds, as also occurs in politics, there's no appropriate place for him with the new administration, he could go back to his law office and not miss a beat. In a way, he never left it. He still retains his association.

As for a shot at the commissionership, baseball has too long delayed the naming of a successor to Fay Vincent. The job has been vacant for so long that the lack of an appointment tells you how important a commissioner really is.

Lucchino has been around long enough in high places to be known and recognized for his abilities. The fact Lucchino is connected to high government sources in Washington wouldn't hurt baseball at a time when the voices of legal siege are taking aim once again at the game's favored status.

Baseball was ruled a sport by the Supreme Court, not a business, and thus doesn't have to face up to the same antitrust regulations as all other enterprises.

It's also a foregone conclusion if Lucchino leaves the Orioles, he would be a natural to champion the cause for the national pastime's return to the nation's capital. Washington never should have lost the Senators and, in the last expansion, deserved to be ahead of Miami.

RFK Stadium is available and would serve as a temporary baseball home until a more modern facility would be built in either D.C. or northern Virginia, providing a team is forthcoming by expansion or transfer.

Washington, with its baseball ambitions and other endeavors, is in dire need of leadership.

Lucchino, to his credit, has all kinds of options open. He probably could have bought into the Orioles' new ownership alignment but so far it hasn't happened.

It's an enviable situation when a man can be so much in charge of the destiny of his own career, even if his Orioles future is in the charge of someone else.

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