- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

CHICAGO — Baltimore Orioles future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken is being courted by the Washington Baseball Club to be part of the ownership group if it acquires a franchise for the District.

Representatives of the District group, led by financier Fred Malek, have approached members of Ripken’s business group about being a part-owner, Ripken spokesman John Maroon confirmed. But no direct contact has been made with Ripken, and no specific terms have been discussed.

Ripken, who retired as a player after the 2001 season, has long made known his desire to run a major league baseball organization. Yesterday, during a youth baseball clinic here, he reiterated he would like to be a team’s decision maker.

“I’ve always said I would be interested in having an impact on a baseball organization,” said Ripken, remaining noncommittal about Washington area baseball. “But it would have to be the right opportunity, with the right time and a chance to analyze any such deal. I’m always willing to listen to opportunities, but it would be difficult to deal in a hypothetical situation.”

WBC spokesman Winston Lord also confirmed that initial outreach to Ripken representatives had been made. Malek heads one of three prospective ownership groups seeking to buy the Montreal Expos.

“Anybody of Cal’s stature and knowledge, we’d be crazy to not want to talk to them. We want to run a world-class organization,” Lord said. “The current Montreal leadership [president Tony Tavares and general manager Omar Minaya] is doing a great job, but when an opportunity of this caliber develops, you certainly investigate it.”

If Malek’s group were to consummate a deal with Ripken, it would provide an instant surge of credibility and notoriety for an already powerful group. Other partners include America Online co-founder Jim Kimsey, prominent real estate investment executive Joe Robert, Fannie Mae chairman Franklin Raines, Washington power broker Vernon Jordan, former Walt Disney Co. executive Dennis Hightower, former Washington Redskins star Darrell Green and lawyers Paul Wolff and Steve Porter.

Malek and his associates already have a link to Ripken because Malek’s assistant, Desiree Pilachowski, formerly worked for the Tufton Group, which represents Ripken.

Virginia Baseball Club, led by William Collins, also has had conversations with Ripken about bringing him in as an investor, most recently in 2001 when Ripken was finishing his playing career. No substantive conversations between VBC and Ripken’s people have occurred in the last year, VBC executive director Jerry Burkot said.

“We’ve had informal discussions about this with Cal,” Burkot said. “There was some interest from him. There was definite interest from us. Why wouldn’t we be interested?”

Asked whether he was following the Washington area’s pursuit of the Expos, Ripken said. “I really haven’t been paying too much attention to it.”

Ripken, who expressed interest earlier this year in the Orioles’ general manager position before opting out of consideration, now spends much of his time running Ripken Baseball, the youth clinics and teams and his Class A minor league club, the Aberdeen Ironbirds.

Meanwhile, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, also the chairman of MLB’s relocation committee, said the Expos will not be moved hastily simply to remove the franchise from ownership by the other 29 clubs. The comment follows a similar one Monday by MLB president Bob DuPuy, who said baseball would insist upon and wait for the right financial terms before moving the Expos.

“I don’t know of a strict timetable,” Reinsdorf said. “It’s much more important to get this absolutely right than it is to move with speed. This process is moving at an orderly and deliberate speed. But I, and the whole [relocation] committee, feel a great responsibility to make a proper recommendation to the commissioner.”

The relocation committee is now targeting a period between late August and the end of the season to render some kind of decision on the Expos’ future. MLB commissioner Bud Selig will receive a formal briefing on the committee’s work to date in the next seven to 10 days. Many industry insiders, however, believe that playing more or even all home games in Puerto Rico stands as the Expos’ most likely immediate scenario.

Reinsdorf, who in January said he ideally would like to see a jurisdiction provide 100 percent of the funds for a new stadium, declined to comment yesterday on comments last month by D.C. Council finance committee chairman Jack Evans that he would not advance any stadium financing legislation out of his panel without a commitment from MLB to the District.

But Reinsdorf did praise the bid efforts from both the District and Northern Virginia and said he still would like to see the largest financial contribution possible from the public sector.

“We certainly want as good a deal as we can get,” Reinsdorf said. “We want the ballclub to be able to compete and not just spend its money on bricks and mortar.”

District Mayor Anthony A. Williams attended last night’s All-Star Game, saying he is “very confident and hopeful” Washington will land the Expos. Williams, however, has not backed off the city’s standing request of some kind of conditional award of the franchise before advancing stadium legislation.

“We’ve put together a very solid and attractive package,” Williams said. “But I need some kind of sign, some kind of direction to move forward. I can’t have this conversation by myself.”

The MLB Players Association also is being cooperative as MLB determines the Expos’ future. A first draft of the 2004 schedule was due from MLB office to the union by July1, but the union has granted a one-month extension of that deadline.

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