Local message rings joyously loud, clear at Camden Yards

Bill Tanton

October 05, 1993|By Bill Tanton

The Peter Angelos era could not have gotten off to a better start than it did yesterday in the outdoor flag court at Oriole Park.

Under a bright blue sky and with the temperature in the 70s, Angelos, the Orioles' new principal owner and managing partner, and most of his 20 fellow investors as well as assorted politicians -- including Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- and media types gathered in the late afternoon for a ceremony that officially declared the local group the new owners.

Local -- that can't be emphasized too strongly.

Since Day One, Aug. 2, when Angelos and Cincinnati's Bill DeWitt combined the financial might of their two groups to buy the Orioles for a sports franchise record of $173 million, Angelos has made that perfectly clear.

"Let there be no doubt," he said then, "that this is Baltimore ownership. Baltimore people are in charge."

That was stressed, over and over, yesterday in the sun-splashed area just beyond the right-field fence.

"I'm extremely proud," said Angelos, "to bring the ownership back to Maryland and the city of Baltimore."

There were nods of approval, even in the press section.

"The Orioles," Angelos said later, "are an institution here like the Chesapeake Bay, Ocean City and the mountains of Western Maryland. We'll never allow this ballclub to be taken away."

In some sophisticated cities, talk like that might draw snickers.

But here in Baltimore, where we saw Robert Irsay run off with our pro football team, where we saw Abe Pollin make off with our pro basketball team, and where we anguished at one time over the possibility that the late Edward Bennett Williams would move our Orioles elsewhere, nobody was snickering.

No, this sort of talk is music to our ears.

Even when previous Orioles owner Eli Jacobs had a signed 15-year lease to play at Camden Yards -- and with the club enjoying sellouts every night -- some Baltimoreans remained gun-shy. They were still a little afraid of what the out-of-town owner (New York) might do if attendance fell off.

Now there is no thought of any of that. Indeed, Pete Angelos, the self-made millionaire lawyer, graduate of Patterson Park High and the University of Baltimore, received enthusiastic applause when he intoned:

"I predict this club will never leave here. This club will never again be controlled by outside interests."

It occurred to Angelos, at that point, that this pro-local and anti-outsider talk might be offensive to Bill DeWitt and the man seated to his right, Mercer Reynolds.

DeWitt, whose father once owned the Cincinnati Reds, is president of Reynolds, DeWitt and Co. in Cincinnati. Mercer Reynolds is the investment firm's chairman.

"We'll christen Bill and Mercer as Marylanders before they leave here," Angelos said with a smile.

I used to see DeWitt around the baseball scene in Cincinnati in the days of The Big Red Machine. His buddy was Herk Robinson, now general manager in Kansas City.

"Herk called me this morning to congratulate me," DeWitt said.

"Are you going to be in the office on a daily basis?" I asked DeWitt, who initially was listed as the vice chairman for baseball.

"No, I'll be more on a consultant basis," DeWitt said.

"Will you have a residence here?" I asked.

"Not at first," he said. "We'll have to see how much time I'm spending here. It's an easy commute -- 1 hour and 15 minutes today on Delta."

Angelos is in charge, as he should be, and as he must be with a group this large. Angelos is the big investor.

Novelist Tom Clancy, who grew up a postman's son in Parkville, is the second largest investor.

But neither Angelos nor Clancy nor Jim McKay nor Pam Shriver nor any of the other owners has spent a day in baseball. DeWitt grew up in it. His experience in the game should be invaluable to the new owners.

Angelos wisely said he and his partners would need "30, 60 or 90 days" to study the organization before making any changes.

In answer to a direct question he replied: "I don't see either [Orioles president and CEO] Larry Lucchino or [manager] Johnny Oates as candidates for change."

There will be changes, though. You can be sure of that. One of them probably will see Lucchino move on to the top front-office job with the Florida Marlins. A source tells me Lucchino, 9 percent owner under Jacobs, was not invited to join Angelos' group.

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