Jerold C. Hoffberger, 80, former Orioles owner, dies

Brewer, philanthropist ran team for 14 years

April 10, 1999|By Albert Sehlstedt and Rafael Alvarez | Albert Sehlstedt and Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Jerold C. Hoffberger, the local boy who grew up to own two of his hometown's greatest icons -- National Bohemian beer and the Baltimore Orioles -- collapsed and died about 6 o'clock last night, his family said.

Mr. Hoffberger, a tireless philanthropist who celebrated his 80th birthday Wednesday, was working with a business associate when he was stricken in Baltimore. He was declared dead of unknown causes at Sinai Hospital.

Services will be held at 2: 30 p.m. Monday at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, 7401 Park Heights Ave.

"He had been working out with a physical trainer and was in better health this year than he had been in the past five or six years," said his son, David Hoffberger of Arnold. "He'd had some heart problems for a number of years but [recently] he looked better and had more enthusiasm."

Said Maryland Comptroller William Donald Schaefer -- the mayor of Baltimore when Mr. Hoffberger owned the Orioles: "Men like that you have a hard time replacing."

Described by friends as a "workaholic" and "a man of wealth and character," Mr. Hoffberger said of himself: "There's a lot of Baltimore in me and a lot of me in Baltimore."

Although the Orioles made it to five World Series between 1965 and 1979 when Mr. Hoffberger owned the team and he ran the National Brewing Co. for 28 years, neither of these high-profile enterprises was closest to his heart.

"I think that the most fun part of his life was to see young people take responsibility in important issues, be they political or business or religious," said his son David. "That far surpassed the enjoyment he got from the baseball and the beer."

A longtime patron of educational, religious and cultural institutions in metropolitan Baltimore and Israel, Mr. Hoffberger was described in 1983 as one of the nation's "most generous living Americans" by Town & Country magazine, a New York-based periodical that monitors the ways of the rich and famous.

The magazine said Mr. Hoffberger had donated more than $10 million to charity at that time.

Among recipients in this area were the Johns Hopkins Hospital and its School of Hygiene and Public Health; Mercy, Sinai and Harbor hospitals; the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation; Goucher College and the University of Maryland.

His influence was also felt by street-level projects to improve life. The inspiration for such good deeds -- or "mitzvahs" as they are known among observant Jews -- was Mr. Hoffberger's faith.

"Jewishness," he once said, "is one of the most important things in my life in the sense that the Jewish tradition provides a model in which you can perform and contribute."

Opportunities for this largess included his presidency of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds and the worldwide Jewish Agency, which is the Diaspora organization formed to support Israel by encouraging emigration from other countries, helping with the settlement of newcomers and taking care of the orphans of the Nazi Holocaust.

"He had a passion for Baltimore and a passion for the inner city. He always had his mind on the downtrodden," said the Rev. Melvin Tuggle, president of Clergy United for the Renewal of East Baltimore (CURE), a group of 150 East Baltimore churches. "I consider him one of the greatest Baltimoreans God ever made."

Mr. Tuggle also mentioned Mr. Hoffberger's decision to acquire slugger Frank Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds before the 1966 season as the owner's way of inviting black Baltimoreans to embrace the team.

"That not only changed the Orioles' winning ways, but it also changed black-white relations in this city," Mr. Tuggle said. "His trade for Frank Robinson helped tear down the tension between blacks and whites, and he treasured that."

Jerold Hoffberger said of his commitment to social issues: "My father was always involved in good works. I had worked for [the 1960 election of] John Kennedy, and I felt very strongly about what he was trying to do."

Mr. Hoffberger recalled that his father, Samuel H. Hoffberger, who was a successful lawyer, active in the Democratic Party and also a local philanthropist, had been responsible for building the first low-cost housing in the city during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945).

One of the most touching compliments paid Mr. Hoffberger came from one of his most impressive ballplayers, Mr. Robinson, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

"After a ballgame, he [Mr. Hoffberger] would come into the clubhouse every night he was in the city, and he wouldn't come over and slap you on the back and say nice game-winning home run, nice double, nice play or whatever," Mr. Robinson said in the traditional speech each player delivers at the Cooperstown ceremony.

"The first words out of his mouth were, `How are you? How's your family? Is there anything I can do for you?'

"And that, to me, was the greatest significance that an owner of a ball club could do for me. I looked up to him not only as the owner of the ballclub but as a friend of mine."

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