Washington Redskins president Edward Bennett Williams is attempting to buy the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. If successful, Williamsmay have to relinguish his position as chief operating officer of the Redskins, although he would not have to give up the 14.3 percent he owns of the team.
Williams has been after the American League franchise for nearly six months, sources said, or since a bid for the team by former Treasury Secratary William E. Simon fell through. Williams had been a silent partner in the Simon effort.
Williams could not be reached for comment yesterday.
It was not known if Williams intends to move the club toWashington, or split its schedule between the two cities,if the Orioles' current principle owner, Jerold C. Hoffberger, agrees to sell to him.
Hoffberger has been asking$12 million for the club. Until recently, he discouraged or rejected overtures from non-Baltimore bidders, preferring that the club remain in the city that has been its home for 25 years.
But fund-raising efforts of a Baltimore group have fallen short by almost$6 million, and Hofferger has indicated his patience is wearing thin.
Asked yesterday if he would require the club be kept in Baltimore as a condition of sale, Hoffberger said, "I would hope so. But if push comes to shove and I want to sell it and I can't find buyers here, I'm going to sell it."
Hoffberger would not comment on reports that Williams wantsto buy the franchise.
"I made a long-term policy decision to not comment on such reports," he said.
Calling Williams a "good friend," Hoffberger said, "I have not admitted to any (sale) discussions with Edward Bennett Williams. We talk all the time about a lot of different things."
But, Hoffberger said, he had talked to Williams on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I talked to him yesterday about the fact that he had a business date and could not come to the ball game.
"The day before, I talked to him about the fact that I couldn't meet him for dinner in New York."
William's interest in the club became public Wednesday night when ABC-TV's Barbara Walters reported on the network news that Williams and National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle had had "a bitter battle" over the NFL's policy against cross-ownership of teams.
As the Redskins' president and chief opreating officer, Williams owns 14.3 percent of their stock while the vic president, Jack Kent Cooke, has 85.7 percent. Cooke recently sold the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and Kings hockey team and his arena, and may consider becoming more involved in the Redskins.
Under an NFL policy that is being challenged in court by the North American Soccer League, the majority owner, or chief operating office, of an NFL club cannot own a team in another major professional sport.
A disagreement between Williams and Rozelle reportedly was sparked when the NFL owners meeting Wednesday in New York were briefed on the league's legal matters relating to the policy, according to sources.
Rozelle would not comment on what sources described yesterday as their "argument." The Orioles were not discussed at the session and Rozelle responded in a statement yesterday to the hypothetical question of what would happen if Williams wanted to buy the club:
"Inasmuch as he has only a small stock interest in the Redskins and if he were no longer the president of chief operating officer, our current policy would not prohibit it (a purchase).
"Our policy has never prevented a minority owner from owning another sports franchise."
A 1976 NFL resolution adopted by the clubs pohibits the majority owner or the officer exercising operational control of a club from "acquiring interest" in a pro baseball, baskeball, hockey or soccer team.
The resolution, one of a series adopted against cross-ownership, is not part of the NFL bylaws, but has the effect of a bylaw, NFL spokesman Jim Heffernan said.
The resolution also says that an NFL majority owner or operating partner already holding interest in a team in those sports cannot increase his interest and must use his "best effort to dispose of current holdings."
"The idea was to divest yourself of interests in other sports and in recent years there has been strong sentiment among the owners to enforce that policy," Heffernan said.
But last October, the NASL obtained an injunction against the NFL, barring enforcement of the policy against NASL teams. A trail is not expected until the end of the year.
While the injunction applies to soccer only, any court decision would set precedent for the other sports. There are five NFL owners with interest in other sports, two of them in socccer.
Hoffberger often has been on the brink of selling his club in the past few years, but abruptly has canceled the deals, sometimes without explanation. Hoffberger's waffling six months ago infuriated Simon, who thought he had an agreement to buy the club.
The Baltimore group trying to raise $12 million turned to Washingtonians last week in search of partners willing to share the franchise between the two cities. It was a last, almost desperate move to keep some of the Orioles' games in Baltimore rather than risk losing the team to another city.
Friends of Williams say he is growing weary of football and long has had a passion for baseball. CAPTION: Picture, Edward Bennett Williams