Orioles fans quick to embrace Angelos as one of their own

John Steadman

August 13, 1993|By John Steadman

Now that Peter Angelos is in a different theater -- the ballpark, not the courtroom -- he has found a recognition that almost leaves him speechless, an extraordinary condition for a trial lawyer.

Men and women say hello as he passes on the street, strangers approach to shake his hand, and at Jimmy's Famous Crab House on Holabird Avenue the reception was so overwhelming it was as if a celebrity had fallen into their midst.

Angelos, asked for reaction over the way he's being hailed, is truly humbled by the experience.

He has never exactly been a nonentity, having been involved in politics and the practice of law. Now he has stepped up to home plate in his old hometown as the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, subject to approval by his hoped-for future fraternity members -- the owners of other major-league teams.

"I have been astounded over what has happened," he said. "It's unbelievable, the letters of congratulations, the phone calls and the enthusiasm. The feeling I have at this minute is the fans look on it as kind of a redemption of civic pride, considering that the team is Baltimore-owned."

Thus far he hasn't heard from any job applicants or ticket-holders wanting their seat locations changed. That will come later, the price of annoyance he must pay for being wealthy enough to be the leading investor in the $173 million deal to buy the club.

He says none of the group with him -- the count is generally put at 29 -- has dropped out. Indeed, more may be added from Washington and various points in Maryland.

"I look at ourselves as the trustees of the franchise," Angelos said. "I feel privileged to be in this position. Rarely does any person have a chance to do what the multitudes consider a victory for them."

What is surprising to him is the way he has been suddenly projected in the public eye, certainly not from the status of anonymity because he comes in with a measure of prominence, having once been in the City Council and a later candidate for mayor. But owning a major-league baseball team has an identity all its own.

"It's similar to politics," he explained. "Except I'm being greeted by the citizens for doing them a favor. All they keep saying is 'thank you' and it's like nothing I could have ever imagined. The message is clear that many people wanted Baltimoreans to own the team."

Within the black community, there's a feeling of trust for Angelos. After all, the record shows that in 1961, when he was a member of the City Council, he introduced the first equal accommodations law. "I'm proud of that," he answered when asked about it. "But it would have been better if it had been like 132 years before."

Again, the Angelos performance chart shows that in 1967, when he lost the bid to become mayor, he had a black candidate, Clarence Mitchell, on his ticket running as the president of the council, along with Francis Valle, his choice for comptroller. The Orioles-owner-to-be disagrees that too many in the ownership mix will cause confusion. He quickly cites other teams, such as the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, as having nearly as many or even more minority owners than the Orioles.

Major-league baseball representatives have interviewed Angelos once and will do so again as he's checked out. A story in an out-of-town newspaper reported Jerry Reinsdorf, of the Chicago White Sox, had lectured him on the advisability of keeping a low profile and not making statements that might be controversial.

"It wasn't that way at all," Angelos said. "I don't know how that could have been misconstrued. I haven't heard if Jerry read the article, but the things he told me certainly weren't critical of me. I fully understand that as of now I have no right to be outspoken since I'm awaiting approval to be an owner and that isn't expected until Sept. 8 or 9. As of now, the Orioles owner is Eli Jacobs."

And about Jacobs: "It's unfortunate he suffered adversities. He made a lot of contributions to the Orioles but, like in politics, you don't get much credit when you go out."

But there's a difference for Angelos now. He's asked for his autograph, which is something that never happens to city councilmen or lawyers.

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