Angelos gives impressive humble sign, letting others bask in Palmeiro's glow

December 15, 1993|By John Steadman

Most owners of sports franchises, so keen about getting their names and faces in the newspapers, wouldn't dare miss an opportunity to engage in a grandiose gesture of self-promotion. It puffs up their egos, feeds a phony self-esteem and makes them feel a notch better than the rest of us commoners.

So when Peter Angelos, new owner of the Baltimore Orioles, after buying them at auction for a record sports franchise cost of $173 million, didn't put in an appearance at the signing of Rafael Palmeiro, it sent a different kind of a message. We felt like standing up to applaud.

Not that those at the announcement party didn't want to see the distinguished Mr. Angelos. His smile lights up a room and the words flow with sincerity and articulation.

Palmeiro was getting an astonishing contract, calling for $30.35 million. All the area newspapers, radio and television stations would be there. It created the opportunity to advertise himself and feel important.

Where was Angelos? Back at his law firm, trying to make a living, of course. He could have been present, front and center, dominating the microphone but, instead, turned over the proceedings to general manager Roland Hemond.

"I thought it was a moment for the front office to enjoy, not me," he said when questioned later. "After all, it was Roland's day."

And what does Angelos think of Palmeiro after all the meetings that were necessary to make him an Oriole? Well, he's not yet boasting to friends he'll see them at the World Series because he knows the variables of baseball, even if he has yet to experience them as a team owner.

As to the acquisition of Palmeiro, the reaction of Angelos was cautious, yet positive. "I hope Rafael does the job," he said. "He's intense. He told me, 'Mr. Angelos, you'll never be sorry. I'll break my back for you.' "

There's a modesty to Palmeiro that attracted Angelos. Another free-agent first baseman, Will Clark, whom the Orioles pursued originally, has an arrogance that detracts from him personally. Of course the performance chart is what's important.

As the season gets under way, the evidence will determine the comparable worth of each -- Clark with the Texas Rangers and Palmeiro as an Oriole. Although born in Cuba, the newest Oriole, in Angelos' evaluation, is "an All-American guy." That, too, has been said before.

Angelos, as a rookie owner, will find out firsthand that players who might look good at the negotiating table don't always bring a return on their investment. To even remotely justify the $30.35 million, Palmeiro is going to have to hit .300-plus, pound 35 home runs and drive in more than 100.

The absence of Angelos at the Palmeiro signing ceremony showed he's not an owner who needs to be pounding his chest, ZTC or flaunting a bank account. Staying away offered a different perspective, one that's almost too good to be true.

From another aspect, his presence at the ballpark is going to be different than most present-day owners. He insists he'll watch from the stands and, as of this moment, declares he will not frequent the dugout or locker room. The most successful baseball executive of all, the late Branch Rickey, never visited the dressing room.

Rickey figured that was a private venue and stayed away. If he wanted to see a player, he sent for him. You may see Angelos on the field for pre-game practice but not on the bench.

"I believe the dressing room is the preserve of the players," he added. Now, he has absolutely put himself in a position where his actions will be closely monitored.

Will he be able to resist the temptation of going where too many owners, since they have the right of entry, believe they belong -- inside dressing rooms fraternizing with the athletes? Angelos can't learn anything there. All he would succeed in doing would be to make the players feel that as the club owner they had to make him feel welcome.

No doubt there will be Angelos sightings at the ballpark, touring the premises and getting to know the audience, the seat-buying public. Yet, if his word holds true, he's not going to be lollygagging in the clubhouse.

The fact Angelos didn't appear at the Palmeiro unveiling allowed the focus to be on Hemond and the Orioles' baseball department, which is now separated, under his new format, from the financial side of the operation. He could have taken, not a cheap bow but an expensive one, considering the contract is for $30.35 million.

So far, the Angelos style merits an ovation. Something about he who humbles himself will be exalted.

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