Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the ponytailed multimillionair and chairman of Joppa-based Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, is negotiating to buy the Orioles.
Team owner Eli S. Jacobs, who rebuffed inquiries by Mr. Weinglass last year, apparently had a change of heart and contacted the businessman several months ago about buying the team, according to sources familiar with the discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
all trying to keep quiet about it right now. . . . Nobody wants to upset the apple cart," said a source close to the talks.
Other potential buyers are said to have been in contact with Mr. Jacobs' representatives, but it is unclear whether they are actively negotiating to buy the team. A spokesman for Mr. Jacobs did not respond to a request for comment late yesterday.
Mr. Weinglass' bid is on behalf of the investment group he assembled to bring a National Football League expansion franchise to Baltimore, including movie director Barry Levinson and ex-Colt Joe Washington, two sources said.
recently as two weeks ago, Mr. Weinglass denied having an interest in the Orioles. Associates say he is trying to keep the matter quiet. Yesterday, Mr. Weinglass said, "I really can't talk about it."
Before being allowed to examine a team's financial records, potential buyers are routinely asked to sign confidentiality agreements barring them from discussing the matter.
"Nobody really knows -- Eli could be negotiating with anybody right now. . . . I just think everything is quite up in the air right now," said a source familiar with Mr. Weinglass' efforts.
A Weinglass associate, who also asked not to be identified, said, "I know he's been looking" at the team. This associate said the football group has discussed from the beginning buying the Orioles if the price was right.
"Boogie is a smart businessman. If he sees he can work a deal, he would be interested," the associate said.
But the group does not want an unsuccessful baseball bid to interfere with its football effort. The NFL was scheduled to award two expansion franchises this year but has delayed that action.
Baltimore is one of five cities competing for a football team, and Mr. Weinglass' group is among three competing for a Baltimore team. If Mr. Weinglass purchases the Orioles, he would have to drop out of the football race, since the NFL disapproves of having owners also own other sports teams. That would leave the pursuit of the football team to investment groups led by Maryland-based author Tom Clancy and Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer.
Weinglass has homes in Baltimore, Ocean City and Florida but spends most of his time at a 40-acre ranch in Aspen, Colo. He is the founder of Merry-Go-Round, a chain of retail clothing stores.
Mr. Levinson, also a native of Baltimore and a longtime friend of Mr. Weinglass, portrayed their childhood here in the hit movie "Diner." His movies also include "Tin Men," "Avalon," "Rain Man," "Good Morning Vietnam" and "Bugsy."
Other members of Mr. Weinglass' investment group are Merry-Go-Round President Michael Sullivan, Duty Free International Inc. Chairman David H. Bernstein, real estate investor Richard L. Pearlstone and C-Mart Discount Warehouse owner E. Douglas Carton.
None would comment on the Orioles negotiations.
Mr. Jacobs, under pressure from lenders as he restructures hidebt, said last year that he had received and was reviewing offers for the team. He has declined to comment about it since.
Bud Selig, Milwaukee Brewers owner and chairman of Major League Baseball's ruling Executive Committee, said yesterday that baseball has not been notified of an Orioles sale. Baseball's owners held meetings this week in Louisville, Ky., but Mr. Jacobs did not attend. The team was represented by its president, Larry Lucchino.
"Eli wasn't there. It wasn't discussed," Mr. Selig said of an Orioles sale.