If Angelos pitches in, he can be a big hit


August 07, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

This is the honeymoon period, so we'll ask for the little things first, and Will Clark later. A local owner in Baltimore faces the same pressures as a Democrat in the White House. After so many years out of power, their constituencies demand everything at once.

Peter Angelos can't help but be a hit -- he won't blackmail the state like the late Edward Bennett Williams, and he won't milk the Orioles for a $1.325 million management fee like Eli Jacobs. Indeed, after those two, he'll probably be a hero.

Angelos might not know much about baseball, but he understands that the Orioles are a public trust. He pursued the team for the good of the community, and soon he'll get to act in its interests.

Peter, we'll get to free agents later.

For now, just follow this little list:

* Fix the road jerseys.

This would be a silly issue in any other city, but it's a sensitive topic in Baltimore, where the sports community is psychologically scarred from the loss of the Colts and the trespasses of two out-of-town baseball ownerships.

Actually, the Orioles removed "Baltimore" from the road jerseys in 1975, when Jerry Hoffberger was owner. But the perception is that Williams committed the heinous act, the better to serve his quest for a regional fan base.

Williams indeed sought a higher profile in Washington and Northern Virginia, implementing a marketing vision that saved the franchise. Seven other major-league clubs use their nicknames on their road jerseys. Nowhere else is it a concern.

Still, paranoid as they might sound, Baltimore fans are essentially correct in believing that Williams and Jacobs had little regard for their interests. With one stroke, Angelos can score a public-relations coup with his core audience. Washington would get over it.

* Call it "Camden Yards."

Not Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the eight-syllable abomination that resulted from the feud between Jacobs and Gov. Schaefer over the name of the new ballpark.

Jacobs wanted Oriole Park, Schaefer preferred Camden Yards, and OPACY was the outcome. Camden Yards was, and is, the better name. No one calls the place Oriole Park except the club's radio and TV announcers, who don't have a choice.

Why change it? Because the OPACY compromise represented the height of Jacobs' arrogance. Yes, the lease agreement stated that the ballpark would be named jointly by the governor and the owner. But Schaefer persuaded the state to build the park, a fact Jacobs conveniently ignored.

No one knows why Jacobs was so adamant -- the royalties are believed to be minimal. Angelos appears fond of Schaefer, and the governor's ego always needs stroking. Under terms of the sale, the new owners probably can't rename Eli Jacobs Plaza. Fine, just take a red pencil to "Oriole Park."

* Schedule more day games.

It doesn't take much to become known as a baseball visionary, but this is one way for Angelos to leave his mark. True, the Orioles sell out nearly every game, and even without the two expansion teams, major-league attendance is up almost 10 percent.

Still, the sport needs more young fans.

On Thursday, there were 10 day games, the most this season in the majors. The average attendance (29,460) was lower than the overall average (31,510), but if you take away a crowd of 14,702 in San Diego, it would have been greater.

Why can't the Orioles play afternoon games on all Saturdays and at least one weekday per homestand? Granted, it's dangerous to tinker with attendance booming, but the long-term impact would make it worthwhile.

* Hold down ticket prices.

If only for one season. Jacobs issued three price hikes in four years, a fine show of appreciation for the taxpayers who built the Orioles a stadium and the fans who helped them set attendance records.

No one begrudges an owner's right to make money, but a $28 million operating profit in a publicly financed ballpark without a dramatic improvement in the standings? That's taking advantage.

None of this is Angelos' fault. In fact, his ownership probably can make a valid argument for raising prices, what with ticket demand soaring, revenue sharing coming and television money declining.

That said, the fans still deserve a break. The loss of additional income would hurt, but there's no better way for Angelos to gain popular support. This way, if he asked for an increase in 1995, the fans might even understand.

It's all about credibility.

Something that has been missing from Orioles ownership for too long.

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