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Selig says Orioles sale won't start high-priced trend


A $150 million sale of the Orioles would be "aberrational" and should have little effect on the prices attracted by other franchises, baseball's de facto commissioner said yesterday.

Bud Selig, chairman of baseball's Executive Council, the sport's ruling body in the absence of a permanent commissioner, pointed to a wide range of factors that he said make the Baltimore sale unique, including the stunning success of the Camden Yards ballpark and the plight of current owner Eli S. Jacobs, who is in personal bankruptcy.

"Would this sale have significance in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, San Diego, Cincinnati or Houston? None, zero," said Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

"What's always hard for people to understand is that the indigenous characteristics of each franchise are so different. To apply what happens in Baltimore, Md., to Pittsburgh, Pa., is just foolish.

"This is an aberrational situation. You have a new stadium. You have a city that is drawing people like nobody -- including people who live here -- thought could happen 20 or even 10 years ago. The best answer is that these are market forces at work, and they'll determine what the club is worth."

Selig, who is in Baltimore for tonight's All-Star Game, made the comments during a 90-minute interview yesterday with reporters and editors from The Baltimore Sun.

Selig was guarded in discussing the Orioles sale, which is being overseen by a New York bankruptcy judge. Five groups are known to be interested in buying the team, and the judge is expected to pick one at an Aug. 2 court hearing.

Selig said the Orioles sale is "proceeding along very well." He declined to comment when asked to speculate about a scenario in which baseball owners would oppose a sale to investors chosen by the judge.

"To engage in 'what ifs.' . . . First of all, I'm not a lawyer. I certainly don't want to prejudge what would happen in that situation," Selig said.

He was clear, though, that the endorsement of the judge would not replace baseball's own system of background and financial checks.

"We have a responsibility to make sure that we have at least done our due diligence for people who are going to own baseball teams," he said.

Jacobs paid $70 million for the Orioles four years ago, and the next owners are almost certain to pay more than $150 million, surpassing the record of $125 million paid last year for the Seattle Mariners.

Jacobs agreed last month to sell the team to investors led by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr. for $141.3 million. The price increased almost $7 million three weeks ago, when local bidders headed by Peter G. Angelos, a lawyer, topped the DeWitt offer during a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York. That number is expected to climb again when the judge considers final offers next month.

Three other groups are pursuing the team. Jean S. Fugett, chairman of TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., and a former Baltimore lawyer and professional football player, is leading a group. Other investors are led by New York art dealer Jeffrey H. Loria and by Douglas Jemal, an owner of Nobody Beats the Wiz, a New Jersey-based chain of electronics stores.

At $150 million, Selig wouldn't say if the Orioles are a good buy.

"The people in the five groups will have to analyze that," he said.

During the interview, Selig touched on other baseball subjects, including:

* Baseball's fragile economy.

Echoing a familiar refrain of some owners, Selig said the sport needs revenue-sharing and a salary cap.

"We have to change the system," he said.

But to what? So far, the owners cannot agree. Small-market owners want revenue-sharing because it may provide the extra money they need to compete for players. Owners in large markets generally have been opposed, objecting to a system that asks them to part with the millions they collect from local television.

Selig, a longtime supporter of revenue-sharing, predicted all teams would benefit eventually. "If baseball fails in a number of places, there will be no asset that will be better off. They will all be weaker," he said.

* The search for a commissioner.

Selig said the search was on track, but did not say when a new commissioner would be named. Some owners prefer that the appointment be made after a new labor agreement has been struck with the players.

"I think we ought to have one as soon as possible, whatever that means," he said. "If he comes in before a new labor agreement, that is not a negative."

* More expansion.

Selig agreed that the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies have been success stories. But he did not commit to more expansion soon.

"I can honestly tell you right now there are no expansion plans," he said. "Does that mean we will never expand again? I don't think that. But let's let Florida and Colorado get going."

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