Former Indians owner dies at 83

CLEVELAND -- Richard E. Jacobs stepped up along with his brother in the 1980s to rescue Cleveland's baseball franchise, which was struggling under weak financial backing and poor fan attendance at an outdated, mammoth stadium.

Under his leadership, the Cleveland Indians twice reached the World Series and sold out 455 consecutive games at a new ballpark.

Jacobs, who had been in ill health, died peacefully at the age of 83 on Friday, his real estate company confirmed. Other details were not immediately released.

Jacobs and his brother David bought the Indians from the Steve O'Neill estate in 1986 for $40 million. David Jacobs died in 1992.

Richard "Dick" Jacobs focused on restoring the struggling American League franchise's profitability and making it competitive on the field.

The team's new ballpark in downtown Cleveland became Jacobs Field when it opened in 1994, and the Indians made it to the World Series in 1995 and 1997, losing to the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins. Jacobs owned the club until 2001.

The park was renamed Progressive Field last year after Jacobs' naming rights deal ended and Progressive Corp. signed a new agreement.

Jacobs was a low-key owner who preferred to let his baseball executives and manager be the face of the team. But Jacobs attended most of Cleveland's home games while he owned the team, sitting in the loge behind home plate.

He was chairman and chief executive officer of the Richard E. Jacobs Group, a firm in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake that he founded with David Jacobs and Dominic Visconsi in 1955.

The company developed the 57-story Key Center in 1991 at Cleveland's Public Square, the tallest building between New York and Chicago. The Jacobs Group is a national developer of shopping centers, office buildings, mixed-use developments and hotels.

When the Jacobs brothers acquired the Indians on Dec. 11, 1986, the franchise had been rumored to be considering a move to St. Petersburg, Fla.. But under the organizational leadership of Hank Peters and later John Hart its talent level on the field gradually improved.

Hart said he visited with Jacobs on Thursday at his suburban Cleveland home, describing him as weak, not talkative but alert.

Jacobs was a very private person, Hart said, even when he was trying to figure a way to get the team out of 78,000-seat Cleveland Municipal Stadium, which the Indians had shared with the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

"He always talked a lot about his love for the community. He had a love for Cleveland," Hart said. "There was no guarantee a new stadium was coming. I think he had a business plan he was hopeful would succeed. He didn't want to lose on the field and he didn't want to lose on the bottom line."

Cleveland's new baseball stadium was largely publicly funded.

Sen. George Voinovich, a personal friend of Jacobs, said Friday that Jacobs was crucial to Cleveland development projects which the city needed.

"He was truly a part of the Cleveland turnaround and renaissance," Voinovich said.

Jacobs' funeral service is set for Wednesday.

The Indians announced on April 9 that Richard Jacobs and the late Indians owner Bill Veeck would be the inaugural inductees in the team's Distinguished Hall of Fame during a ceremony August 1.

"Today is a very sad day for the Cleveland Indians organization with the loss of Dick Jacobs," said Indians owner Larry Dolan. "Dick engineered the renaissance of Cleveland Indians baseball and achieved success at the ownership level that hadn't been experienced in Cleveland since Bill Veeck in the '40s. I was very honored and thankful to take over an organization with such a proud legacy that he had built."

The Indians' current general manager, Mark Shapiro, joined the Indians organization as an assistant in baseball operations in 1992.

"All of us who worked with him and for him were inspired by his strength, wisdom and toughness," Shapiro said.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said the city "has lost not only an exceptional businessman, but also a friend committed to revitalizing Cleveland."