Indians Sold For $320 Million


Larry Dolan sat by the radio as a kid in suburban Cleveland, keeping score and dreaming of one day playing shortstop for the Indians.

"My idol was Lou Boudreau," Dolan said. "All I ever wanted to be was Lou Boudreau. It never occurred to me I'd be Bill Veeck."

Dolan agreed Thursday to buy the Cleveland Indians for $320 million from Richard Jacobs, who as the team's owner since 1986 built the club from a baseball laughingstock into a model franchise and perennial power.

Dolan's acquisition is subject to approval by major league owners, who have taken 6-18 months to consider recent purchase agreements. Jacobs said the transaction should close by the end of March or early April.

The deal appears to be a record for a baseball franchise, topping the $311 million sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers last year from the O'Malley family to the Fox division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Dolan, an area lawyer whose wealth has reportedly come from his stock holdings in Cablevision Systems Corp., said he could have never imagined the Veeck-owned team he rooted for in the 1940s would one day become his own.

And like Veeck, whose 1948 team was the last Indians club to win a World Series title, Dolan wants to return Cleveland to the top of the baseball world.

"I don't want one World Series for the city of Cleveland," he said. "I want a string of them."

Dolan, 68, is no stranger to the city's sports community. A longtime Indians season-ticket holder, he was unsuccessful in trying to buy the Cleveland Browns and has been rumored to be Jacobs' successor since the Indians were put up for sale in May.

At the time, Jacobs said he would sell the team he bought along with his late brother, David, for about $45 million in 1986 only to someone with local ties and a commitment to Cleveland.

Negotiations over the past few months were secretive and conducted by lawyers representing Dolan and Jacobs.

"You never saw so many lawyers," Dolan said. "Dick and I had an opportunity to share pleasantries and talk. He and I did not do any face-to-face negotiations. It would have got done a lot faster if we had."

"Amen," Jacobs said.

Dolan, who said he would let general manager John Hart run the baseball operations, is acquiring a franchise Jacobs turned from a doormat into a money-making machine.

Under Jacobs' ownership, the Indians climbed from a last-place finisher to a team that has won the AL Central the last five years. Jacobs Field, which opened in 1994, has been sold out for 373 consecutive games. And you can hardly walk down a street in Cleveland without seeing Chief Wahoo's smiling face

"He's going to be a tough act to follow," Dolan said of Jacobs.

The agreement ensures the stadium will remain Jacobs Field at least through the 2006 season, and Dolan said the controversial smiling-Indian Wahoo would remain the team's logo.

The only thing missing from Jacobs' ownership era was a World Series title.

Cleveland lost the 1995 World Series to the Atlanta Braves and was two outs from winning the Series in '97 before the Florida Marlins came back to win Game 7 in 11 innings.

With the Indians ahead in the eighth inning, Jacobs was watching the game on a TV in the Cleveland clubhouse, which had been draped from floor to ceiling in plastic to prepare for a champagne celebration.

"Sometimes I think about that at three in the morning," said Jacobs, 74.

Jacobs, though, has enjoyed his run.

"I've had a lot of fun with the team," he said. "But life is going to go on. I don't think I'll suffer from seller's remorse."

Jacobs offered stock in the Indians to the public in June 1998, although he kept the controlling interest. Shareholders will receive between $22.25 and $22.75 per share. The deal is subject to shareholder approval, but since Jacobs controls the vast majority, that is a mere formality.

The stock was sold initially at $15 a share and rose Thursday to a one-year high of $20.62 on news that a sale was imminent.

Dolan, and his brother, Charles, Cablevision's chairman, have been trying to buy a professional sports franchise for some time. They went after the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees in baseball and the NFL's Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins.

Cablevision is the majority owner of the NBA's New York Knicks, the NHL's New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden. But Larry Dolan said that his brother and Cablevision are not involved in the Indians deal.

Charles Dolan is reportedly interested in owning the New York Mets.

"The owner of the Cleveland Indians is going to be myself. My brother, Charles, is not involved," he said. "What he does is his business. I did tell him, Charles what we need is pitcher. If you can't pitch we don't need you."

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