American League Club owners welcombed Washington attorney Edward Bennett Williams into their exclusive fraternity today, unanimously approving the sale of the league-champion Baltimore Orioles to him.
In what league President Lee S. MacPhail said was the shortest league meeting he can remember, the 14 clubs took fewer than five minutes to approve the $12 million sale after listening to and questioning Williams for less than an hour.
The subject of the Orioles playing future games in Washington came up only tangentially when williams was asked what his plans were for the 1980 season. He said, as he has frequently, that all games would be played in Baltimore.
The club's contract with Memorial Stadium allows it to play 13 games elsewhere, but Williams last month ruled out any possibility of Washington games in the coming season.
Initially, the sale to Williams caused an uproar in Baltimore, where fans were afraid he would move the club to Washington. Williams has said he intends to keep the club in Baltimore as long as it is properly supported.
"Everybody was familiar with what his situation was and what has been said in the press," MacPhail said, explaining why Washington was never specifically mentioned.
MacPhail added, "At some point, yes I do hope some games will be played in Washington. I've always felt that way."
Williams formally takes over the club, which drew an unprecedented Baltimore attendance of 1.7 million last season, on Nov. 1, the beginning of the Orioles' new fiscal year.
As he waited outside the Plaza Hotel meeting room while the owners deliberated, Williams answered reporters' questions about his plans for the club, which last week lost the World Series in seven games to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I have asked the principal operators of the franchise to remain in place and they've agreed." he said, referring to current owner and President Jerold C. Hoffberger, General Manager Hank Peters and Manager Earl Weaver.
On whether the Orioles would change their past policy of avoiding the free-agency sweepstakes, Williams replied, "I believe there are things you can't buy, like loyalty, friendship, health, love -- or the American League pennant.
"But I'm perfectly willing to make reasonable forays into the free-agent market if it will help the club."
Then, Williams, who is also president of the Washington Redskins of the National Football League, added, "I've had no bad experiences in the free-agent market in football, really . . . (although) there were times when we weren't running a financially prudent operation."
Williams has said he would like to build a 42,000-seat baseball-only stadium for the Orioles, but has never elaborated on a possible location or its financing. "I am not ready to talk about that now," he said.
And, again, he said he has no partners in his Oriole venture and does not expect to in the future.
After the vote on the sale and another on a resolution commending him went through, a beaming Hoffberger joked that it was the first time a Baltimore proposal had been approved unanimously.
Of his stewardship of the club that moved to Baltimore 25 years ago, Hoffberger said, "All my life "I've been in and out of things. Once I make up my mind and say that's what I'm going to do, I don't look back and say, 'Gee whiz, I'm sorry,' I think I did as good a job as I could and I don't have any regrets."
According to a confidential AL report, the assets of EBW Inc., the company Williams formed to buy the Oriels, are projected to be $19 million on Nov. 1, the day he formally takes control of the club.
Of that sum, $7 million is in unidentified real-estate properites. The other $12 million represents the franchise, with $6 million of it allocated to player contracts for amortization purposes.
Under its articles of incorporation, the Maryland-based EBW Inc. could undertake a myriad of businesses and activities ranging from the operation of a newsstand to the development of land to house certain indoor and outdoor activities.