Ken Rosenthal / FOXSports.com
The latest talks between former Baltimore great Cal Ripken and Orioles owner Peter Angelos about the future of the club involve a new wrinkle.
The two are discussing a gradual transfer of ownership from Angelos to a group that would include Ripken, major-league sources tell FOXSports.com.
The chances of such a sale occurring anytime soon are remote, but Ripken is engaged in ongoing discussions with Angelos about buying the club.
While past discussions between Ripken and Angelos failed to advance, Ripken, according to one source, is now "guardedly optimistic" that a deal eventually could occur.
Ripken and Angelos met shortly before Thanksgiving, and could meet again before the Christmas holiday, the source said.
The plan under discussion would be modeled after an approach used by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens after former owner Art Modell agreed to sell the franchise to Steve Bisciotti.
A slow transfer of power might appeal to Angelos, who would gain immediate credibility with the addition of Ripken yet retain, for a specified period of time, a measure of control.
A lengthy period of transition also could work to Ripken's benefit, giving him time to learn the business of Major League Baseball.
Ripken declined comment. Angelos did not return a phone call seeking comment.
An agreement between the two would face numerous obstacles.
Ripken, 46, would need significant financial backing; the combined price for the Orioles and their new regional television network could exceed $800 million, according to one industry analyst.
Possible lead investors include Chip Mason, chief executive officer of Legg Mason, a global asset management firm based in Baltimore; and Bill Miller, Legg Mason's renowned fund manager.
Mason, however, told FOXSports.com said that he has not spoken with Ripken or Angelos about a possible sale.
"I'm unaware of anything going on," Mason said.
Angelos, 77, has not announced his intention to sell. He might not be willing to yield control. And his demanding negotiating style might make it difficult for a prospective buyer to close a deal.
The owner is speaking with other potential buyers, a source with knowledge of his discussions said, and in the end might prefer to leave the team to his sons, John and Lou.
"As Peter talks, a deal may be close," said a source familiar with Angelos' negotiating methods. "As Peter lives, it may be far."
But if Angelos could delay his departure, he might be more willing to sell.
When Bisciotti, the Ravens' present owner, purchased a minority interest in the Ravens from Modell in 2000, he secured an option to buy the rest of the team four years later.
Bisciotti worked closely with Modell while waiting to complete his purchase, then assumed control in 2004.
If Ripken were part of an Orioles' ownership group, he likely would want the role of club president — and a return to the franchise's past foundation of scouting and player development.
The incentive for Angelos to sell has perhaps never been greater — and his legacy would be significantly enhanced if the Orioles' next ownership group included Ripken, whose election to the Hall of Fame is expected in January.
Angelos, who bought the Orioles for $173 million in 1993, has become a target of fan discontent; the team has produced nine consecutive losing seasons, and its home attendance last season was the lowest in the 15-year history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Yet, the franchise's long-term viability is assured thanks to a series of concessions that Angelos extracted from Major League Baseball in 2005 in exchange for dropping his threat to challenge the Nationals' move to Washington, D.C.
MLB guaranteed the Orioles minimum annual revenues of $130 million, a minimum sale price of $365 million and the creation of a regional sports network in which the team's ownership stake will never fall below 67 percent.
The next ownership group would inherit those terms, which are designed to protect the Orioles from financial damage that might be caused by the Nationals. Washington is approximately 40 miles south of Baltimore, and the Nationals plan to move into a new ballpark in D.C. in 2008.
Ripken, when the Nationals were for sale, expressed interest in joining an ownership group that would install him in a decision-making position. But his preference has been to run the Orioles, and he was not part of Theodore Lerner's group that purchased the Nationals from MLB.
Ripken grew up an Orioles fan in Aberdeen, Md., and his father Cal Ripken Sr. was part of the Orioles organization for 36 years as a player and manager. Cal Jr. spent his entire 21-year playing career with the club before retiring in 2001. He is now president and CEO of Ripken Baseball, which hosts youth camps and tournaments, owns two minor-league clubs and is involved in other grass-roots baseball ventures.