New owners great, but can they work together as a team?

John Steadman

August 03, 1993|By John Steadman

This is an occasion for what should be sublime exultation, the manifestation of what Baltimore and baseball used to represent in its storied bygone era. The sons of a saloon-keeper and a ballpark popcorn salesman now have ownership of the Baltimore Orioles, for over a century a team that has a history of unparalleled tradition.

Peter Angelos, whose father operated bars and restaurants, and Bill DeWitt Jr., whose dad worked in concessions for the St. Louis Cardinals and then bought the rival St. Louis Browns, have joined forces in the most expensive franchise purchase -- $173 million -- since Abner Doubleday conceived the idea of what is proclaimed the country's national pastime.

You can't get much more working class than the fathers of Angelos and DeWitt -- even if Peter Angelos graduated from the University of Baltimore and Bill DeWitt holds degrees from both Harvard and Yale. That just shows how the land of opportunity affords advantages of education and unlimited possibilities for both social and financial gain for all generations.

If there's a downside to the transaction it is that it involves, as now constituted, an unwieldy number of owners.

History tells us that in Baltimore, as elsewhere, multiple-leadership groups have a problem in sports. Will precedent be dramatically shattered and find all parties living in future peace and harmony?

Initial intentions are always good -- as they are now with Angelos, DeWitt & Associates -- but somewhere along the way personalities clash. In lawyer Angelos, author Tom Clancy and retailer Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, you have three eminently successful individuals with iron-willed opinions. Egos match their personas.

When Angelos makes this kind of a record monetary commitment, it lifts him to a higher elevation among holders of sports franchises. It's comforting to have a Baltimore owner, a good neighbor, so to speak, but that in itself, unfortunately, doesn't automatically guarantee success.

Angelos is a rookie owner but it doesn't take long to learn the dimensions of the three-foot line or location of the bullpen. Of more importance is if the ownership is as good for Baltimore as everyone hopes.

How the groups co-exist in a long relationship, within the baseball environment, will be a situation to study and evaluate. As for DeWitt, he's a more conservative type and is going to be in charge of baseball operations.

So, already, before they even assume command, there's a name, DeWitt, added to the professional baseball mix of Roland Hemond, Frank Robinson and Doug Melvin. All three have to be asking current president Larry Lucchino, who also has input, for an assessment of their decision-making authority.

A pretty picture no doubt will be painted about what a momentous moment this is for Baltimore, especially since Angelos is the hometown boy who worked hard, made a fortune and bought the Orioles at auction.

Well, if Angelos and the other participants want to demonstrate what they stand for, they can start by returning the name of the city to the road uniforms.

The Orioles under the ownership of the late Edward Bennett Williams stripped Baltimore off the shirts, as if it was an embarrassment to be playing for one of the oldest teams in baseball, and marketed the club as merely the Orioles. This was an attempt to stimulate Washington rooting interest but the ruse is a rude slap at the intelligence of ticket buyers in both cities.

It's infantile to think that by leaving the name Baltimore off the uniform inspires ticket sales. When Chris Hartman, representing an advertising agency that may get the Orioles' account now that Angelos is in the driver's seat, was asked if he would recommend a change, he said, "no," which is disappointing. It makes no sense.

2 If Angelos, Clancy and Weinglass want to score with the Baltimore audience, then all they need do is what is fundamentally right. Put Baltimore back where it belongs. It will make the home folks happy. And they don't ask for much.

Give Baltimore what it deserves -- its birthright. Help Washington to get its own team in the National League, which it truly deserves, when the next expansion or a team transfer occurs.

Angelos is the Orioles' owner. The others, including such prominent figures as Jim McKay and Pam Shriver, are along for the ride. Angelos has what has been described as "substantially PTC more than 50 percent" of the $173 million that's invested.

He didn't put up that kind of money to let someone else call the shots. The Orioles belong to Angelos. He has the ball and bat.

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