With just days to go before the Orioles are to be sold in federal bankruptcy court, one of the five bidders, electronics discounter Nobody Beats the Wiz, has dropped out of the running.
In other words, somebody will beat the Wiz.
"It's killing me to say it, but yes, that's true," said Richard F. Leibner, a Washington attorney who represents Nobody Beats the Wiz, and Douglas Jemal, one of the four brothers who owns the mid-Atlantic chain.
Jemal, who intended to be the Orioles managing partner, attributed the Wiz's decision to uncertainty over baseball's labor situation -- which could result in a strike -- and to the high prices being offered for the Orioles. The Jemals made their decision, which was first reported in The Washington Post, over the weekend, and Leibner notified Major League Baseball on Monday.
The Orioles are being sold in bankruptcy court because the team's principal owner, Eli S. Jacobs, is in personal bankruptcy with debts exceeding assets by more than $170 million.
A bankruptcy judge is expected to choose the new owners at a hearing in New York on Monday. Major League Baseball owners also say they must approve the team's buyers. Jemal said baseball had granted approval to the Wiz, a New Jersey-based company known for its steep discounts and for its unabashed self-promotion.
Jemal said his company had the money to buy and operate the Orioles; he just didn't believe the team is worth the amount it will take to acquire them. "You've got to say, 'Are you willing to risk everything to own the Baltimore Orioles?' " he said. "The smart answer was no."
A group headed by Cincinnati businessman William O. DeWitt Jr. has made a formal bid of $146.25 million for the team. A competing group of local investors, headed by attorney Peter G. Angelos, topped that bid at a court hearing last month with an offer of $148.1 million. Yet to be heard from are two other possible bidders, Baltimore native Jean S. Fugett, chairman of TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., and New York art dealer Jeffrey H. Loria.
Jemal and Leibner said yesterday that they expect the price to go higher on Monday. "This process is going to get way out of hand," Leibner said. "There are going to be a lot of theatrics on Monday."
Jemal said yesterday the Wiz will not bid on any other team. Though New York-born, Jemal lives in Bethesda and described himself as an Orioles fan. He said he was only interested in owning his hometown team.