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MLB owners approve sale of Baltimore Orioles to David Rubenstein

MLB owners approve sale of Baltimore Orioles to David Rubenstein

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Major League Baseball’s owners on Wednesday unanimously approved David Rubenstein as the new controlling owner of the Baltimore Orioles, a day before the team’s 2024 season begins. The vote, conducted during a conference call, means that for the first time in three decades, the Orioles will have a managing owner not named Angelos on Opening Day.

The deal the owners approved gives Rubenstein, a co-founder of the Carlyle Group private equity firm and longtime Washington-area philanthropist, and his prominent minority investors 40 percent of a franchise that was valued at $1.7 billion for the purpose of the transaction. Under the terms, current controlling owner John Angelos agreed to cede that position to Rubenstein, and his family agreed to give Rubenstein the option to buy the rest of the team once family patriarch Peter G. Angelos died.

For that reason, the timing of Rubenstein’s takeover felt almost preordained. Peter Angelos, the self-made billionaire and patriarch of the family that purchased the Orioles in 1993, died at 94 Saturday after a lengthy illness.

Out of respect for the family’s mourning, Rubenstein and his group have not yet spoken to the family to hammer out the specifics of purchasing the rest of the team, but a deal seems likely to come sooner than later. Angelos’s death eliminated the need for his family to pay capital gains taxes on the profit it made on the franchise since he bought it for $173 million in 1993. Given the sale price, those taxes would have cost the family hundreds of millions of dollars.

In a statement, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred thanked the Angelos family “for their many years of service to the game and the communities of Baltimore,” and said that “as a Baltimore native and a lifelong fan of the team, [Rubenstein] is uniquely suited to lead the Orioles moving forward.”

Regardless of when the deal for the remaining 60 percent is consummated, it will be Rubenstein who sits in the owner’s box at Camden Yards Thursday afternoon when the Orioles open one of their more promising seasons of the last three decades. They will do so in the aftermath of stunning tragedy in Rubenstein’s hometown after the Francis Scott Key Bridge, visible from Orioles executive offices, collapsed early Tuesday. The Orioles canceled a scheduled public workout Tuesday because of it.

Rubenstein, 74, has been interested in buying the Orioles for several years. He worked on a potential deal with Washington billionaire Ted Leonsis in which Rubenstein would invest in Leonsis’s Monumental Sports & Entertainment to help that group purchase the Orioles, though that deal never came together. Leonsis then focused his attention on the Washington Nationals, for which he bid more than $2 billion in 2022. But by then, Rubenstein — who was also said to have interest in the Nationals, according to multiple people familiar with his thinking — had decided to pursue a team with a new group.

Eventually, Rubenstein compiled a group that included Ares Management private equity firm co-founder Michael Arougheti and several prominent investors with Baltimore-area ties, including Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., Johns Hopkins graduate and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke. That group will begin its stewardship of the Orioles mere hours before the first pitch of their 2024 season.

“Baltimore was always my first interest because I grew up in Baltimore. I was raised there, I was educated there,” Rubenstein said in a recent phone interview. “It’s much more appealing to me for many reasons. And also, I think the team is actually in extremely good shape despite the fact that they didn’t have a lot of money in recent years.”

For years, Baltimore fans expressed frustration about how much the Angelos family was willing to invest in its on-field product. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Orioles have not had a team payroll in the league’s upper half since 2017, and they haven’t had a payroll ranking in the league’s top third in more than a decade. Last year, as they won the American League East with a team built largely around players who had yet to hit free agency or even arbitration, the Orioles finished with the second-smallest payroll in the league.

“I don’t want to prejudge what we’ll do [in terms of spending],” Rubenstein said, “but what we’ll do is follow the recommendations of [General Manager] Mike Elias and his team.”

Speaking of Elias and the Orioles’ vaunted baseball operations department, Rubenstein said he does not plan to make major changes when he takes over — nor to be particularly hands-on when it comes to baseball decisions.

“If you’ve got the general manager of the year in the American League and the manager of the year in the American League, do you really think they need my advice on who to play?” Rubenstein said, referring to Elias and Baltimore Manager Brandon Hyde. “My thinking is, you guys are the best in the business, I’m here to support you. I’m not going to be meddling in a lot of things that are not my area of expertise.”

One thing Rubenstein does plan to involve himself in, however, is finding resolution to the decades-long headache that is the MASN dispute. Though he would not offer specifics about what a resolution might look like for the regional sports network that also broadcasts Nationals games, he made clear he hopes to do what the Lerner and Angelos families could not and devise a more palatable arrangement.

“I think all of baseball, and all the fans of Baltimore and Washington, would like to see this resolved in a friendly, amicable way in the near future,” Rubenstein said, “and that’s my goal.”

Solving that dispute should never be easier than now, when the cable revenue at the heart of the dispute has shrunk to a fraction of their previous size due to cord-cutting. Still, even without specifics of what a resolution might look like, Rubenstein’s optimism represents a marked change in posture from the Baltimore franchise, which might be all it takes. On the field and off, a new Orioles era is already underway.

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