Oriole officials see another side of Peter Angelos

February 04, 1994|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

Roland Hemond has survived 43 years in baseball, consorting with some of the most eccentric and unpredictable owners in the game.

He got along swimmingly with Bill Veeck, who signed a midget as a ballplayer and concocted an exploding scoreboard. And he worked smoothly with a couple of difficult Orioles owners, volatile Edward Bennett Williams and tight-fisted Eli S. Jacobs.

But his next boss, Peter G. Angelos? The free spender who cracked open the Orioles' vault to attract high-priced free agents? The friend of the fan, who pledged to fix those misbegotten seats at Camden Yards that point at the Bromo Seltzer Tower? The guy who talks of handing out free tickets and dreams of a new grandstand reserved for deserving school kids?

With Peter Angelos, Mr. Hemond quit. Or tried to.

Barely six weeks into Mr. Angelos' tenure as Orioles owner, Mr. Hemond, the eager-to-please general manager, was deeply frustrated. One afternoon, he appeared at Mr. Angelos' law office, ready to resign.

Mr. Hemond backed away from the threat after being reassured by the owner. But the general manager's angst underscores the difficult transition under way at Camden Yards, where Orioles officials are slowly getting to know Mr. Angelos and reluctantly coming to accept some of the owner's new ways.

One thing they've learned: Self-assured, outspoken Mr. Angelos is firmly in charge.

At times, Mr. Angelos has looked a lot like a whirling, one-man show. For an owner on the job only four months, he has shown absolute confidence in his judgment, particularly in choosing next season's Orioles roster.

He forms strong opinions aboutplayers, and has played a lead role in deciding which free agents the Orioles should pursue. He rejects any thought that those decisions should be solely in the hands of baseball experts.

At times, this heavy input has created tension between Mr. Angelos and front-office officials, who worry that he acts impulsively and that his appetite even for baseball details is whittling away their influence.

In a few weeks, the Orioles will be heading off to spring training, where they will move to center stage, and so will any rifts that might develop in the club's revamped front office.

Whatever happens, Mr. Angelos isn't likely to be the one reinventing himself. His style is to take the lead, and he seems to relish that authority, whether it is the baseball club or his thriving Baltimore law practice, in which he has no partners.

"He is aware of every decision that is made [involving the baseball team]. And, to the extent it is a material decision, he's making it," said George Stamas, Mr. Angelos' lawyer and one of his closest advisers.

Mr. Angelos has trimmed the Orioles front office. When he took over from Mr. Jacobs, it included a chairman, president and seven vice presidents.

Four executives have been fired or forced to resign. A few of the outgoing executives are especially bitter over severance deals forced on them. One employee, let go after 17 years with the team, recently was asked to turn in his keys in return for 10 weeks' salary.

Mr. Angelos has acted quickly to fill the void at the top, bringing in several new executives, led by former banker Joe Foss, to run the Orioles' business affairs.

Even with his own executive lineup settled in, Mr. Angelos has held onto power, sharing little of the decision-making even with the team's other investors.

One Orioles investor, William O. DeWitt Jr., was expected to be very visible, but nearly has dropped from sight. Mr. DeWitt, who until recently owned a small piece of the Texas Rangers, initially was tabbed for a job leading baseball operations, but he soon relinquished the post and now seems to have no input.

When Mr. Angelos made his biggest splash of the off-season, luring free-agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro to Baltimore, Mr. DeWitt said he "didn't really have a role," even though Mr. Palmeiro's last team was the Rangers.

Mr. Angelos concedes he isn't the most willing delegator. But he says he intends to stay on top of the day-to-day business of the Orioles only as long as it takes to figure out how the team runs.

"I don't delegate anything until I fully understand it," he said.

His grand plan, Mr. Angelos said, is to take a year to master the baseball business "beyond the rudiments," then to leave the details to his hand-picked executives.

From that point, Mr. Angelos said, "I will be the judge."

Traumatic changes

Changes in the Orioles front office have been particularly traumatic for the baseball brain trust: Mr. Hemond and his assistants, Frank Robinson and Doug Melvin.

One of Mr. Angelos' first moves set the tone.

Shortly after he took over, he told reporters he planned a %J shake-up in the baseball operation, and likely would name Mr. Melvin as next Orioles general manager.

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