David Rubenstein won’t pretend this was some lifelong goal, even though he was a senior in high school in Baltimore when the Orioles won their first World Series in 1966. He watched two more World Series titles while in college and law school, and he was as much a fan as anybody who grew up immersed in those glory days of Orioles baseball.

This call to action came later — and it came to fruition only in recent months.

Rubenstein, the billionaire and philanthropist, is now the owner and control person of the team he remembers watching from an early age. The sale, agreed to in January, values the franchise at $1.725 billion.

The transfer of power from the Angelos family to a group led by Rubenstein was finalized Wednesday after the owners from the rest of Major League Baseball’s clubs approved the sale. His group now owns a majority stake of 40%, with a path to purchase additional shares from the Angelos family.

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But what led Rubenstein here? What led the 74-year-old to acquire a stake in his boyhood baseball team?

Baltimore. It all comes back to the city that raised him.

“When this opportunity came along, I thought, ‘OK, what I can do is help support the town that was good to me growing up. The town that my parents were born in, that I was born, my parents are buried in, and I will no doubt be buried in as well,’” Rubenstein told The Baltimore Banner. “I don’t want to oversell what I can do, but I would say I do feel an obligation to pay back the country and also pay back Baltimore for my good fortune.”

Rubenstein grew up in Northwest Baltimore and graduated from Baltimore City College. He looks at his education there with fond regard. Rubenstein said his parents were blue-collar workers, and “they couldn’t have afforded to send me to a fancy private school in Baltimore.”

Of all the professors he learned from, “the best teachers I ever had were in public school in Baltimore,” he said. “I’ve had great teachers in law school, great teachers in college, but I had a couple teachers at Baltimore City College that were extraordinary and helped me a great deal as I was moving forward with my education. It all came about for free.”

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In the years since he made his fortune in the business world, Rubenstein has given back to the country through what he calls “patriotic philanthropy.” He paid half the cost of repairing the Washington Monument after a 2011 earthquake. He paid $21.3 million for a copy of the Magna Carta and built a center to house the document in the National Archives. He’s donated money toward museums, landmarks and historic homes.

National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis (left) and David Rubenstein look out the window at the 500-foot level of the Washington Monument after a reopening ceremony in 2014. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Now he has the Orioles, a beloved Baltimore institution.

Rubenstein is the first to admit he doesn’t know the intricacies of operating a winning baseball team. The roster moves, based on analytical data and gut feeling, will not be his forte.

Rubenstein instead said his first priority as owner will be to support the ascent of an organization that was torn down to the studs and built back up through one of the best player-development operations in the sport.

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At the helm will be Mike Elias, whom Rubenstein lauded as perhaps the best general manager in baseball. After Baltimore’s 101-win season and AL East title in 2023, Elias was named the top executive in the league. Meanwhile, Brandon Hyde was named AL Manager of the Year. That duo is paramount in Rubenstein’s vision.

After the deal became public, Rubenstein released a statement saying a World Series win is the collective goal. He hasn’t wavered from those high aspirations, and he recognizes that it will take backing from ownership to reach a level Baltimore hasn’t achieved since Rubenstein was a student.

“I hope not to be blamed for all the things that might happen that don’t go right, but I’ll deserve the blame if I haven’t done a good job in supporting those who built the team to where it is today, particularly Mike Elias,” Rubenstein said. “My job is not to tell them how to do what they know how to do and I don’t know how to do, but to do what I can to support them.

“There are 30 major league teams. Each one has a control partner, and each one has their own personalities, to try to do what they can to help the team,” Rubenstein continued. “I don’t claim to be an expert in who they should draft or who they should sign. That’s really up to them. I’ll just try to be supportive in what they would like to do.”

Rubenstein recently read a comment online that said his purchase of the Orioles was his “latest charitable contribution.”

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“It made me laugh,” he said. Although he wants to give back to Baltimore, he also knows owning a baseball team is a business — potentially a lucrative one.

“I hope to make certain that we do it in a businesslike way but be very competitive, and we’ll just see where Mike Elias and the manager want to take us,” Rubenstein said.

Under the stewardship of John Angelos, the Orioles cut back on spending at the major league level to begin a rebuild. He hired Elias, who in turn developed the top-ranked farm system in baseball. Baltimore lost — a lot — early in his tenure. Then, as the high draft picks started to reach the majors, the Orioles began to win, rising to the top of the American League last year.

Elias also elevated Baltimore’s analytics and international scouting department, and Angelos supported the latter effort through the construction of an academy in the Dominican Republic.

Still, major league payroll entering 2024 is in the bottom half of the league once again. The Orioles haven’t signed a free agent for more than one guaranteed season under Elias, either.

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In that context, Rubenstein didn’t commit to rapidly and exponentially increasing spending or signing star players such as Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman to contract extensions.

He’s already met with Elias multiple times, including a trip to spring training in Sarasota, Florida. But now that the sale is final there will be a larger discussion with Elias to formulate the path forward more clearly.

“I don’t want to commit to do anything or not do anything until I’ve had an extensive discussion with him,” Rubenstein said. “I’d love to support the best general manager in the American League, and maybe in all of baseball, but I don’t want to commit … before I’ve really sat down with them in an extensive way and say, ‘Here’s what we should do and not do.’”

Rubenstein was more forthcoming about a ground lease around Camden Yards. As part of the lease agreement negotiated by Angelos, the state and the Maryland Stadium Authority, the Orioles have until the end of 2027 to form and receive approval for a development plan.

Across the country, stadium complexes have seen similar projects. Gone are the giant parking lots; in are the bars, restaurants and year-round entertainment venues. The Battery in Atlanta, where the Braves play, has been an oft-used example of what Angelos and now Rubenstein envisions in Baltimore.

Rubenstein said he has spoken with MSA chairman Craig Thompson and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore recently on the matter.

“We all have the same perspective that it would be good for Baltimore and Maryland and the Orioles if we can get a ground lease executed in the not-too-distant future,” he said. “I think it will be more likely than not to get done sooner rather than later, but I can’t, obviously, predict exactly when. But I’m very focused on it, for sure,” Rubenstein said.

David Rubenstein, the billionaire who is set to become the Orioles' new control person once MLB approves the sale of a majority stake in the team, was at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida, on Saturday, March 2.
David Rubenstein was at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida, on March 2. (Andy Kostka/The Baltimore Banner)

In the meantime, Rubenstein plans to enjoy baseball at Camden Yards. When he watched a spring training game this month at Ed Smith Stadium, Rubenstein walked around the concourses. He shook hands and took pictures with fans.

That’s his plan in Baltimore, back among the fans in a city that made him.

“When I come to Orioles games, I don’t expect to just sit in the owner’s box full time,” Rubenstein said. “I expect to spend most of the time in the stands with the fans, and I’ll be moving around to different seats each inning or every couple innings, moving through all parts of the stadium, so I can meet the fans.”

Then, some of the dry humor Rubenstein is known for: “Most of whom will probably say they went to high school with me and didn’t think I’d amount to anything. But I’m happy to meet those people as well.”