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Some minority owners content with profits

Mets owners Jeff and Fred Wilpon.

Mets owners Jeff and Fred Wilpon. Photo Credit: AP, 2010

Yankees limited partner Lester Crown, a Chicago billionaire industrialist, has very little interest in the team beyond the financial bottom line. This is typical among limited partners in baseball, according to Steve Greenberg, a managing director of the firm that is screening prospective bidders for a piece of the Mets. Crown personifies the typical minority owner of a sports team in that money buys a stake but usually not a voice in day-to-day operations.

The Mets are trying to sell about 25 percent of the team to cope with the suit brought by the trustee in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.

New York sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler, who has worked on limited partnerships in baseball and is the outside counsel for the NFL and NBA Players Association, said the partnership agreement would spell out the role of any minority owners brought in by the Mets. "The limited partner could negotiate for influence on decisions, or you could have an agreement that provided for no influence," Kessler said. "Since the Mets have a material need for cash, I assume these limited partners would try to bargain for more influence [but] the Mets will see if they can find a group that will give them absolute discretion. If not, they'll have to cede some control.

"I would very much expect that the limited partner group would say that if the Wilpons sell, they have to offer it to them first," he said. "That would be very typical.''

Greenberg, of Allen & Company and son of Hall-of-Famer Hank, said he has turned away investors seeking majority ownership. A member of a group that purports to be in the mix said, "As it seems today, the Wilpons, no matter how it comes out, still are going to be [majority] partners in the venture.''

That person also said whatever deal is struck must have a "clean bill of health,'' with regards to the Madoff suit, meaning that any money invested would have to be beyond the reach of trustee Irving Picard.

No encumbrances surrounded George Steinbrenner's acquisition of the Yankees in 1973. Crown bought 10 percent, which he said amounted to $1 million. "We got into it having nothing to do with sports,'' said Crown, 85. "We're not Yankees fans, we're Chicagoans. One time the Yanks were playing the Sox and George whacks me on the arm and said 'Why are you rooting for the White Sox, you can't do that.' I said, 'George, with the Sox I look at the boxscore, with the Yankees I look at the attendance.' ''

Crown's investment is now 13 percent. "It's a spectacular investment, we just let it ride,'' he said. Forbes has estimated the Yankees' value at $1.6 billion, so Crown's original $1 million has grown to more than $200 million. Forbes lists Crown's net worth at $4.9 billion.

"It's an outside investment that plays very little role in our lives,'' Crown said of his Yankees' share. "We never, ever call Hal or Hank [Steinbrenner] about the team. We don't know anything about that.''

Yankees limited partner Marvin Goldklang, 68, of Livingston, N.J., is a fan. "Of course I'd love to fiddle with the lineup," he said, "but I'm smart enough to understand that's not my role. Minority owners are exactly what the appellation implies: minority owners. There is also that psychic component, feeling close and having a connection to a team that I rooted for since I was four years old.''

Daniel F. McCarthy, 86, of Cleveland, who was George Steinbrenner's tax attorney in the purchase of the Yankees and owns 4½ percent of the team, said he was a "huge'' Joe DiMaggio fan. McCarthy said he has given almost his entire share to his children. He enjoyed a big financial gain over the years. "It was a great investment and you are not responsible for any of the debt or obligations of the team,'' he said. His son, Patrick, said being a part owner is like having a "family heirloom, like an antique. We hold it for investment purposes.''

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