Owners share in opening of new Orioles era OPENING DAY '94

April 05, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

If he wasn't at Opening Day, watching his new team battle the Kansas City Royals, author Tom Clancy would have been home fighting an April 30 deadline to finish his new book, "Debt of Honor."

And if veteran broadcaster Jim McKay hadn't been at the park, he would have been preparing notes for the Santa Anita Derby, which he will work this Saturday.

Pam Shriver? She'd be hitting some tennis balls around, taking it easy until the tournament season heats up in June.

Stephen Geppi, mailman-turned-comic book magnate, would have been putting the finishing touches on some corporate acquisitions that will take his company from 45 percent to 50 percent of the U.S. market for comic book distributions.

From Hunt Valley to Monkton and Calvert County to Los Angeles County, the Orioles' new owners gathered yesterday to put aside their day jobs and savor their team.

What is probably the most star-studded and colorful lineup of owners in sports could not be contained to an owners box -- not even the double-decked one at Camden Yards. The 20-odd investors in the team were spread throughout the park, mostly along the "owners row" above and adjacent to the Orioles' dugout.

"We have the best group of people in the world. We are all fans -- we don't want to lose money -- but we're thrilled to meet the players," said Geppi, a Hunt Valley resident and president of Diamond Comic Distributors.

Geppi, a longtime fan, assembled his family in some front-row seats between the Orioles' dugout and home plate.

"This is Disneyland. I can't believe it's happening," Geppi said.

Baltimore attorney Peter G. Angelos owns the controlling share of the team and, by baseball rules, has the final say in all matters affecting the team. He also gets the posh owners box, although other investors say they can reserve it during the season to entertain.

"During the season, we will have the opportunity to use the box, but I prefer being close to the game," said David Bernstein, a Ruxton resident and chairman of Duty Free International, a retailer of duty-free goods.

The owners have gathered in the same place only a few times. A business meeting last month in Florida. A party at political commentator George Will's house Sunday night -- attended by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former justice nominee Robert Bork, embattled Sen. Robert Packwood and newsman David Brinkley, among others.

"There are a lot of high-profile people [among the team owners] and also not high-profile people who've accomplished good things. The whole community should feel like they own it," said Shriver of Lutherville.

She said Angelos does not consult them regularly on baseball matters, but keeps them informed with occasional letters and has said he intends to tap them for advice and ideas in their areas of expertise. "Baseball requires the team to be run by one person. That's OK. We're there, and he can use us for networking," Shriver said.

Angelos said: "I thought it was important to assemble a group of individuals who were truly representative of all of Maryland, by ethnic background, race, religion and everything."

Retired Maj. Gen. Roger R. Blunt of Oxon Hill, a contractor and one of the first black owners in baseball, was beaming in an Orioles cap. "I think it's a happy day for everyone," he said. "We have every expectation to do better this year than last year."

Clancy, the second-largest investor in the team, said: "It's like waking up and having a better dream." He joined Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Angelos on the field for first-pitch ceremonies, and threw the ball into the dirt several feet in front of catcher Chris Hoiles.

Real estate developer Wayne R. Gioioso Sr. of Glen Arm said: "We're all hard-working people who've been lucky."

The ownership includes some of Baltimore's bluest blood -- such as Harvey M. "Bud" Meyerhoff and Henry J. Knott Sr. -- but shows a decided preference for the self-made, such as Angelos and moviemaker Barry Levinson.

"I wouldn't exclude someone because their parents left them a fortune. But there is certainly a large number of self-made people," Angelos said.

There are also non-Marylanders in the ranks. A deal struck when the team was purchased in bankruptcy court from previous owner Eli Jacobs brought aboard rival bidders headed by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr., who attended yesterday's game, but did not take part in the pre-game ceremonies.

Said McKay: "The owners are so diverse, yet they are all Baltimore people and O's fans that they get along really well."

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