Edward Bennett Williams, president of the Washington Redskins, signed an agreement today to buy the Baltimore Orioles from Jerold C. Hoffberger for $12 million and said he plans to keep the team in Baltimore provided it is supported.
Williams, speaking at a packed news conference, also said he plans to remain president of the Redskins even though the National Football League has a policy against a chief operating officer of a team having stock or an interest in a team in another major league sport.
Williams said he was acting for himself in this venture. "I have no partners," he said, putting to rest speculation that he was working with his wealthy Redskins partner, Jack Kent Cooke.
Williams, a prominent Washington attorney, artfully dodged questions about the Orioles playing some games at RFK Stadium, which has not had a baseball tenant since Robert Short moved the Washington Senators to Texas after the 1971 season.
"i haven't even addressed that question yet," Williams said. "I do know this, that the lease which was renewed between [the Orioles] and the city permits the playing of 13 games -- no more -- in Washington."
The Baltimore stadium lease to which Williams referred runs through next season.
It was learned that Williams has been talking for about six months with D.C. Armory Board officials about possible use of RFK Stadium The board operates the stadium.
Williams said he would consult with Hoffberger and Hand Peters, the Orioles' general manager, before making any decision about playing in Washington.
Williams said he will ask Peters and Manager Earl Weaver to remain with the team. He said he already has asked Hoffberger to stay on as president of the club.
Final settlement of the sale will not take place until Nov. 1, when the purchase price of approximately $12 million will be adjusted to reflect the profits or losses of the club this year.
The Orioles, with the best record in baseball (72-34) and a seven-game lead in the American League East. are averaging about 21,000 fans per game. That pace would break the attendance record of 1.2 million in 1966.
The sale is contingent upon approval by the American League and minority shareholders of the Orioles. Major stockholders already have sanctioned the sale and no problems are expected from the league or stockholders, who have absorbed losses for years and pushed the sale.
Hoffberger has been president of the club since 1965, a year after it came to Baltimore from St. Louis, where the team played as the browns.
Ironically, the Washington Senators cleared the way for the Orioles' move to Baltimore by waiving their American League territorial rights.
Hoffberger has been under pressure from members of his family to sell the club because of consistent financial losses.
Over the years, there have been numerous bidders and several unsuccessful efforts from Baltimore to raise money from both private and public funds to buy the team from Hoffberger.
The latest Baltimore effort culminated last week in the anouncement that a group of Baltimore businessmen had raised $12 million. But Hoffberger informed them he was already "too far down the line" with Williams.
Williams said he has founded a new corporation, EBW Inc., in Maryland to be the parent company for the Orioles. "I own all the stock in the company," he said.
For the Baltimore fans skeptical that he intends to move the Orioles to Washington, Williams said, "I want to say to you it is my intention to keep the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore.
"i did not buy the Baltimore Orioles to move them. I bought them to play in Baltimore and so long as the people of Baltimore support the Baltimore Orioles, they will stay her. That is my pledge to this city."
Pressed on what he meant by "suppurt," Williams replied. "I want the kind of support which will permit me to keep the Baltimore Orioles in the status of which I'm going to receive them. I want them to be a championship team, a consistent contender, the No. 1 team, I don't want them to go downhill."
Williams expressed "total confidence" in the city of Baltimore and all Oriole personnel.
"it's one of te finest sports organizations in the world of professional sports and I'm not going to be foolish enough to tinker with it.
"i learned a long time ago, in sports, not to be a wet-paint toucher."
At another point, he noted "An increasing number of people from Washington come to Baltimore games and it seems they have pretty much adopted the Baltimore team. How can you not adopt the Orioles?"
An avid baseball fan, Williams first became interested in buying the Orioles when William E. Simon, former Treasury secretary, asked Williams to represent Simon in his bid last year for the club.
Simon's attempt fell through, but Williams continued to be enamored with the prospect of owning a baseball club. When his negotiations with Hoffberger appeared fruitful, Williams said he invited Simon to join him again, but Simon declined.
Asked why he wanted to own a baseball club, Williams responded, "I love sports. I love contest-living. My life in the law has been contest-living. It's a life in wich every efforts ends up a victory or a defeat. It's a difficult way to live, but it is a very exciting way."
Apparently Williams still wants to continue contest-living with the Redskins, even if it means a possible legal struggle with Pete Rozelle, commissioner of the NEL.
The NEL's policy strongly discourages cross-ownership by majority owners of chief operating officers of its clubs. That policy is under challenge in the courts and the NFL has been enjoined from enforcing it until the case is resolved.
"there is no rule in the NFL on cross-ownership," Williams said. "There is nothing in the constitution or bylaws on cross-ownership. Therefore, I'm not breeching any rules," said Williams, who owns only 14 percent of the Redskin franchise. CAPTION: Picture, Jerold C. Hoffberger listens to Edward Bennett Williams. By Richard Darcey -- The Washington Post