Optimism lacking as few local bidders emerge for Orioles Local ownership of Orioles may not be likely.


If Colorado resident Leonard Weinglass decides to make an offer for the Orioles Inc., he may find himself representing the team's best shot at local ownership.

Despite the strong fan support the team enjoys, it has not been owned locally since Jerold C. Hoffberger sold it in 1979. And there is not a great deal of optimism in the business community that that will change soon.

News that New York businessman Eli S. Jacobs is considering selling his majority share of Baltimore's Major League team has created a flurry of discussion among the community's corporate elite.

But besides Weinglass -- a Baltimore native who terms his own interest as very preliminary -- no local candidates have emerged, making the city's business community and baseball team seem like star-crossed lovers: When one is available, the other isn't.

Insiders say Gov. William Donald Schaefer has a meeting set up with Jacobs next week and has been working behind the scenes to try to develop interest among local business leaders. But so far the talk has been mostly abstract, with no clear signs of success yet emerging.

Mathias J. DeVito, chairman of the Greater Baltimore Committee, an influential business group, said he has heard no definitive discussions about buying the team.

Herb Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which is building the new baseball stadium downtown, said there is some private discussion among local businessmen.

"I think there is a good chance that there will be a group put together from within the local community. Whether or not they can put together enough money to meet the asking price, I don't know," Belgrad said.

Meanwhile, he has heard interest expressed from some out-of-town buyers, whom he declined to identify but said he gave their names to Jacobs. Jacobs has said he also has heard from some potential buyers, whom he declined to identify.

To be sure, there are other people in Baltimore with money. But few seem to have the inclination to buy a baseball team.

Schaefer's people have contacted some of the obvious candidates, such as Edwin Hale, owner of a local barge and trucking firm and of the Baltimore Blast soccer team.

"I've talked to several people in the governor's office about it. I would love to see local ownership so we don't have to go through this thing again," Hale said.

He said he is more interested in efforts to lure a football team to town. But he said he would encourage others to get involved. "If I could put together a group and not control it, I told them I would help," Hale said.

Weinglass, a businessman and a model for a character in the movie "Diner," revealed his interest Monday night on a sports talk show on WCAO-AM radio hosted by Stan "The Fan" Charles.

Weinglass did not return telephone messages yesterday, but an assistant in his Joppa office said, "This is very much in the preliminary stages. He's interested, but he's got a lot of research to do."

Weinglass, 49, the founder and chairman of Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc. of Joppa, now lives in Aspen, Colo., but has homes in Baltimore and Ocean City. He told The Sun that he has contacted Jacobs' investment banker, J.P. Morgan Inc. of New York, and is waiting to get some financial reports on the team.

One group of potential bidders has already considered but rejected getting involved: the minority-led group of mostly local businessmen that was putting together a $75 million offer in 1988 but was beat to the punch by the Jacobs group's $70 million bid.

The businessmen got together again last week to discuss bidding on the team, but decided not to, said Raymond Haysbert Sr., chairman of Parks Sausage and a member of the group.

"The situation has changed completely with my group. They didn't think it was as good an investment as it would have been before," Haysbert said.

The price, estimated to be upward of $100 million, was too high and the economy too uncertain for the group to bid, Haysbert said. The group includes James H. McLean, owner of Four Seas and Seven Winds travel agency, Allen Quille, owner of several local parking garages, and J. Bruce Llewellyn, chairman of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Philadelphia.

Quille said he would be interested in investing, if the right group was put together. But he was not optimistic it would be.

Other bidders from 1988 seem similarly unlikely to step forward again. The Baltimore-based insurer USF&G; Corp., for instance, has hit upon hard times and is laying off employees and moving away from using sports for promotion, let alone investment.

Local developer and race-track owner Mark Vogel had his interest in the team spurned in 1988. Image-conscious baseball officials felt that their sport and a betting sport such as horse racing should not mix. Since then, Vogel has pleaded guilty to cocaine possession, suffered financial difficulties and been barred by racing authorities from operating tracks in the state.

Insiders familiar with talks now under way say it appears likely that if a local bid is assembled it will have many investors rather than just the one or two major backers that have marked previous club ownership.

Weinglass, for example, said he would probably seek other investors if he were to try to buy the team. Other people considered likely to be looking to participate in a group include Orioles president and part-owner Larry Lucchino.

The governing body of baseball -- the 26 owners or owner groups -- has made it clear that it prefers a single owner or at least a dominant investor putting up 30 percent or more of the cash. This reduces infighting and makes it clear who speaks for the team. The owners also frown on public ownership, either through governments or stockholders.

But there have been exceptions to both rules. Pittsburgh holds a non-controlling interest in the Pirates, as part of the financing package put together to build the team a stadium. And the

Chicago White Sox have almost 80 investor/owners led by a general manager.

DeVito, the GBC chairman who is also chairman of the Rouse Co., said the fact the Orioles are locked into a 15-year lease takes some of the urgency out of the situation because a new buyer would not be able to move the team for many years.

"Our great interest is in having a team here and we've got a team here for a very long time," DeVito said.

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