East Side Art Maven Jeffrey Loria Joins Major Leagues … in Montreal

There’s another Major League Baseball team owner in town. He’s an art dealer named Jeffrey Loria, and on Nov. 30, his $75 million purchase of the woeful Montreal Expos was approved by Major League Baseball. It was Mr. Loria’s sixth attempt to buy a piece of the big leagues in the last 15 years.

As an art dealer, Mr. Loria, 58, who buys and sells high-end classic modern paintings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore, is known as a cagey, some say ruthless, negotiator with an eye for the good stuff.

He was born in New York City and played baseball for Stuyvesant High School, where he was an all-city middle infielder. He attended Yale University with hopes of becoming a major leaguer, but all that ended with a knee injury at the end of his freshman year. He studied art history and French and graduated in 1962. He was hired as a trainee by Sears Roebuck and, shortly thereafter, made head of the store’s new “Vincent Price Collection” of artwork, a collection endorsed by the actor.

Mr. Loria left Sears in 1965 and established his own gallery, Jeffrey H. Loria & Company, on 19 East 72nd street. He thrived in the art business, but his dreams of some kind of athletic stardom still burned. In 1969, he traveled to Los Angeles to watch the New York Knicks lose Game 6 in the National Basketball Association finals.

A lifelong fan of the New York Yankees, Mr. Loria first attempted to buy a major league ballclub in the 1980′s, when he made a failed bid for the Texas Rangers. In 1989, he bought a majority stake of the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A league affiliate, the Oklahoma City 89ers, along with actor Bill Murray and Marvin Goldklang, who is a 1 percent owner of the New York Yankees. The price was $4.3 million.

Over the next four years, Mr. Loria perfected the kind of hands-on management style that led an Oklahoma newspaper to call him a “Minor League George Steinbrenner.” Mr. Loria’s team finnished in last place three of the four years he was owner, except in 1992, when the 89ers won the league championship. That year, Mr. Loria was named the league’s executive of the year.

Bob Colon, the executive sports editor of The Daily Oklahoman , recalled that Mr. Loria was not hesitant to express his opinion. “The year they won the championship they won a game on the road, and he called in and suggested a headline,” Mr. Colon said. “It had something to do with Steve Balboni, who was playing for them at the time–something like ‘Bye-Bye Balboni.’”

Mr. Colon said he couldn’t remember a baseball owner calling in a headline before. “You could tell he was a New Yorker,” the editor added.

Mr. Loria also created a stir when he complained publicly about three Oklahoma City TV weathermen. He thought they went overboard in issuing tornado warnings and weather advisories, which kept fans from going to the ball park.

Jim Weigel, then the 89ers’ general manager, said Mr. Loria “was good to his employees. He paid us better than most Minor League operations.” Mr. Weigel also recalled that after the 89ers won the championship in 1992, Mr. Loria bought the players and executives rings worth somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000.

From 1990 to 1997, Mr. Loria made unsuccessful bids for the Expos, the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals. Finally, in the summer of ’98, he entered into what turned out to be a 14-month negotiation with the Expos.

Now Mr. Loria plans to scale down his art business, maybe not a bad idea, given the state of the club. The Expos’ average attendance last season was 9,000 per game. Its manager, the much-respected Felipe Alou, and general manger, Jim Beattie, don’t get along. The city is a confirmed hockey town, suspicious of American culture. And the stadium is a big, bland cavern.

Mr. Loria has already hired David Samson, his stepson by his second wife, Sivia, to run the club’s day-to-day operations up in Montreal. The new owner, who would not grant an interview for this article, said he has no plans to move the club out of Montreal. He has retained an architect–just who, he won’t say–to help design Labatt Park, the new stadium that should replace the “big O” two years from now.

The Expos finished second to last in the National League East in the ’99 season, with a record of 68 wins and 94 losses. The new owner plans to increase the payroll by 50 percent, from $20 million to $30 million, which would still be one of the smallest payrolls in the majors. On Dec. 21, his team landed its first catch of the off-season, 33-year-old Australian relief pitcher (and former Yankee) Graeme Lloyd.

Great Forgotten Quotations

Dame Edith Sitwell: “C’mon, you know you wanna touch it.”

Genghis Khan: “I’m really not what you’d call a ‘funny’ person. I’m actually quite serious. I don’t get that funny-ha-ha stuff.”

Gertrude Stein: “Ink. A-dink-a-dink. A-dink-a-do.”

Jesus of Nazareth: “When I say ‘Jump,’ you guys say ‘How high?’ Got it?”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “Who is the doodoo man? I am the doodoo man!”

Elizabeth I: “It’s like this: Either the midget goes or I do.”

Emily Dickinson: “Mm-hmm. Right. I see what you’re saying. But here’s the thing: I’ve never really been to me .”

Laotzu: “Without condiments, man is nothing.”

Charlemagne: “Pardon me, but I’m a very large man.”

Lucrezia Borgia: “Oh, give me what the boys in the back room will have, and tell them that I’ll have the same.”

Catherine the Great: “Won’t that look nice on the pancakes!”

Sigmund Freud: “When you hear the word ‘Antwerp,’ your balls will itch. Scratch them.”

Marcus Aurelius: “Is it my imagination, or does something smell like waffles?”

Leon Trotsky: “You can have those shnooks at Schrafft’s. Take ‘em. My aunt in Minsk makes an egg cream to beat the band.”

Edgar Allan Poe: “I’d give anything for a glass of warm milk right now.”

–Jay Stowe

This Was the U.S.A.

Last week, The Observer followed eight days in the life of New York City. But it’s a big country, and there were other events the week of Dec. 2 to Dec. 9. Here are some of the most important events from the rest of the nation.

Dec. 2

Nintendo Removes Swastika From Pokémon: Nintendo pledged to remove a Japanese religious symbol from one of its Pokemon cards after Jewish groups protested that it looked like a Nazi swastika.

Man Collects Cash, Faints: Victor Nevargic, the winner of WPLJ’s “Million Dollar Bank Run,” a scoop-up-all-the-cash-you-can-in-five-minutes radio contest, managed to gather up $79,606 before hyperventilating and passing out on top of a huge mountain of money in a Long Island bank vault.

Bush Family News: In the first G.O.P. Presidential debate he chose to attend, Gov. George W. Bush tried to recover from his recent public inability to name various foreign leaders with the declaration, “I have had foreign policy as the governor of Texas, and that is with Mexico, and I’ve handled it well.” Meanwhile, Barbara Bush said of her son, “George is no dummy … Maybe he was a tad of a late bloomer.”

Dec. 3

Brick Wielder Defended by Rikers Pal: Crack addict Valerie Hampton of Rikers Island said she doesn’t believe her friend Paris Drake, who makes his living dealing fake cocaine, could have committed the Nov. 16 brick attack on Nicole Barrett–a crime that Mr. Drake turned himself in for by pointing to a police sketch of the suspect and saying, “I guess that’s me”–because she’s “never seen him act like that, especially with women. I don’t think he had any assault charges on his record–did he?” Actually, yes.

Dec. 4

Lopez Insured: The London Sun reported that actress Jennifer Lopez insured her body for a billion dollars.

Dec. 6

More Bush News: In his second debate appearance with his G.O.P. opponents, Gov. George W. Bush was asked what lessons he learned from the biography of Dean Acheson he claimed, during a recent debate, to be “reading.” “The lessons of Atchinson and Marshall,” said Gov. Bush, “are, is that our nation’s greatest export to the world has been, is, and always will be the incredible freedoms we understand in the great land called America.” Minutes later, asked about relationship between the United States and China, Gov. Bush said, “Our greatest export to the world has been, is, and always will be the incredible freedom we understand in America.”

Dec. 7

New York Teachers Help Students Cheat: Dozens of New York City teachers were charged with helping their students cheat on standardized math and reading tests–sometimes going as far as changing the answers in the test booklets themselves–in order to improve their schools’ rankings.

More Bush News: Defending himself against the implications that he’s a lightweight, Gov. George W. Bush said, “I’ve been elected Governor twice in an incredibly important state.”

Dec. 8

More Bush News: A new poll in New Hampshire showed John McCain with a seven-point lead over George W. Bush. “He gets the deer-in-the-headlight look that Quayle used to get,” said G.O.P. media strategist and former Quayle adviser Fred Davis. “You almost see his brain trying to remember what he was told, and Quayle came across that way.”

Dec. 9

Woody and Mia’s Son Goes to College: The Daily News revealed that Woody Allen’s 11-year-old son is attending college. Reporter Mitchell Fink, observing Seamus (né Satchel) Farrow on campus, found there to be “a childlike quality about him,” which is, of course, not terribly surprising, since he is, in fact 11.

–Paul Slansky