Will the sale of the Chicago Cubs become a drama reminiscent of the 1993 sale of the Baltimore Orioles?
Initial reports Monday out of Chicago said that an agreement had been reached by the Tribune Company to sell the team, Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in their regional sports network to Tom Ricketts for $900 million.
The next day, though, there were reports of another bid by a group led by private equity investor Marc Utay.
So while the Tribune Company may have had a handshake agreement with Ricketts, the Cubs and the entire package are still up for grabs for Utay and maybe anyone else who may want to bid, because the Tribune Compan filed for bankruptcy in December.
Any deal will have to be approved in bankruptcy court. The Cubs are not part of the company’s bankruptcy, but since it is one of their major assets, any such sale needs the court’s approval.
In 1993, Orioles owner Eli Jacobs had money woes and had a deal to sell the team to a partnership of Larry Lucchino, then the team president, and Bill DeWitt. But once Jacobs filed for bankruptcy, it meant that others could bid on the Orioles as well. That’s when Peter Angelos stepped in and made a bid, as did others.
The team wound up being put up for auction in a bankruptcy hearing in New York. At the last minute, Angelos and DeWitt agreed to become partners, and then Angelos outbid art dealer and minor league baseball owner Jeffrey Loria and former NFL tight end Jean Fugett, who had taken over as president of Beatrice Foods upon the death of his brother, who had owned and operated the business.
Angelos and Loria went back and forth in the courtroom with bids before the Baltimore lawyer won with a record-setting price of $173 million. DeWitt would later learn that despite his belief otherwise, he would have very little role in the club under the Angelos ownership and bowed out within the year.
It is interesting that eventually, both Loria and DeWitt would own franchises — Loria of course purchasing the Montreal Expos and then the Florida Marlins in the infamous three-way franchise deal of 2002 that included the purchase of the Boston Red Sox, by a group that included Lucchino, and DeWitt buying the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs sale may not wind up in a bidding auction, but the bankrupt status of the company is a wild card in the future of the storied franchise.
I will be on The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980 AM Washington today (Thursday) from 4 to 7 p.m.
To learn more about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com