Hometown pride drives Angelos' Orioles ambition

Bill Tanton

November 16, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Make no mistake about Pete Angelos.

The Orioles' new principal owner is a hands-on guy who's willing to spend whatever it takes to get the players who'll put the ballclub over the hump.

Angelos made that abundantly clear at the November sports luncheon at J. Patrick's the other day.

Speaking to an audience of 147 -- the largest ever to attend an event in the six-year history of the luncheon series in Locust Point -- Angelos, without even trying to, showed the difference between himself and the Orioles' two previous owners.

With Pete, there's a powerful thing at work that was missing with the others: emotion. That emotion is based on pride in his hometown.

The late Edward Bennett Williams was a brilliant lawyer, but Washington was his town. The reclusive and peculiar Eli Jacobs was a New Yorker.

But Pete Angelos is a man of Baltimore. At one point the other day he referred to himself as "humble little me from Highlandtown."

Angelos went to high school at Patterson Park, to college and law school at the University of Baltimore. As a young man he tended bar at his father's place on Harford Road.

Angelos has seen his town -- our town -- take some lumps and he hasn't been happy about it.

That was apparent as he told the story of the bidding that day in August when he and his partners bought the club at auction in New York.

"We took out the Mercantile bank and the Cincinnati guys [led by Bill DeWitt, who then joined Angelos] and the bidding got to $170 million," Angelos said. "The art dealer from New York [Jeffrey Loria] was still in it and I told him, 'I don't give a damn if it's $200 million -- we're going to buy this ballclub.' "

"That's the trouble," Loria told Angelos. "With you it's an emotional issue."

That was not the trouble at all. It was and is the strength of Angelos and his people.

Led by the lawyer who made over $100 million in asbestos cases, the local group was motivated not by money or greed or even power but by emotion.

When Loria bid $173 million, Angelos told his lawyer, George Stamas: "Bid $175 million."

"Wait a minute, Pete," Stamas said. "Let's bid $174 million."

"No, I want to scare 'em off," said Angelos, the juices churning.

Angelos' group got the club for a record $174 million.

"We paid more than an out-of-town group would have," Angelos said at J. Patrick's, "but that's because of the affront we felt.

"They took our football team away. We said this was our baseball team, our city, our state. We wanted to establish that we're not a branch office town."

By that point in Angelos' talk, the crowd was deeply moved. John Davis, a onetime Mount St. Joe athlete, called out:

"Pete, that story is the most exciting thing I've heard in a long while. They ought to hold a parade for you right through Patterson Park."

No one ever suggested a parade -- certainly not through $H Patterson Park -- for Jacobs or for national celebrity EBW.

Angelos is a Baltimorean's Baltimorean. As he surveyed the softly lit room the other day he interrupted his remarks to recognize old friends in the audience, some from his days on the Baltimore City Council.

"There's Joe Curran [Maryland's attorney general] over there," Angelos broke in at one point. "Hi, Joe."

Later, he said: "Oh, there's Len Mahoney and his brother Jim." Then: "Who's that back there, Bucky Ward? Hi, Buck."

No, Pete Angelos is no big shot from out of town. He's one of us, and he cares passionately about this town. If he didn't, he'd never have gotten involved in buying the Orioles in the first place.

"The more people said it was a done deal, the more they said Bill DeWitt was going to get the Orioles," Angelos said, "the more I thought it would be ideal to get a local group together.

"I knew Tom Clancy because we're both on the board at Loyola College. I said to Tom, 'Why don't we buy the Orioles, since the football team is more or less a dream?' I told Tom I was willing to participate. I had no idea he could participate to the extent he has.

"Henry Knott and I talked and we didn't like the sound of Cincinnati people buying the Orioles. Henry said, 'I'm too old for this [he's 87], but I'm with you.'

"We got Boogie Weinglass and his troupe to join us [Boogie has since exited the baseball group]. Then we added Jim McKay and Pam Shriver and the world began to believe we were for real. By forcing the auction in New York, that meant we had the ballclub."

During Eli Jacobs' stewardship the Orioles were forced to operate with a limited budget, a fatal shortcoming in this day of high-priced but highly talented free agents.

One hundred forty-seven persons left the luncheon convinced that Angelos and his group will play it the other way.

"I think we'll get one free agent and possibly two," Angelos said. "The type of fan support we have demands that we do something like that."

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