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Oriole officials see another side of Peter Angelos

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

The comments surprised many people. At the top of the list were Mr. Melvin and Mr. Robinson. For four years, both had served as Orioles assistant GMs, vying for the top job. Neither knew Mr. Angelos had reached a decision. In fact, neither had had a conversation with the owner lasting more than a minute.

Mr. Robinson said the circumstances left him "hurt" and "upset."

"From what I'd read, I thought he was going to talk to people before he made any decisions," he said.

Said Mr. Melvin: "It was frustrating. I guess that's not the way to hear it."

Mr. Angelos soon backtracked, saying he'd defer a decision on the front office, perhaps until Opening Day.

Now, he admits his mishandling of the situation.

"Yeah, I would do it differently," Mr. Angelos said. "I would have interviewed Robinson and Melvin before I opened my big mouth."

Different operation

That incident aside, the baseball group is operating differently from in the past.

During the Jacobs years, Mr. Hemond, Mr. Melvin and Mr. Robinson got a tight budget to sign players, make trades and pursue a few bargain-priced free agents. By setting such a low budget, Mr. Jacobs dictated many of the team's player moves. But his involvement seldom reached beyond the numbers.

Mr. Angelos' Orioles have no president, a flexible baseball budget and almost no hard-and-fast rules.

It's a fluid system that already has helped the Orioles land four free agents -- Mr. Palmeiro, Sid Fernandez, Chris Sabo and Lee Smith -- transforming them into legitimate pennant contenders for the first time in a decade. Mr. Angelos said it's a much better way to run a ballclub.

"Let me tell you how it worked with Eli and Larry [Lucchino, former team president]," Mr. Angelos said.

"Eli would say, 'Here's $26 million; go build me a championship,' something Eli and Larry and everybody else knew wasn't going to happen. Eli was a very difficult taskmaster, and you have to give Lucchino credit. He had a tight budget. He wasn't allowed to go over it by a nickel -- a nickel. He had no authority, president or no."

When he took over last fall, Mr. Angelos sat down with Mr. Hemond and discovered they had very different views about how the number should be set.

"He kept saying, 'Give me a budget. That's the way we used to do it,' " Mr. Angelos said. "They'd become accustomed to getting a number and trying to work within it.

"I said, 'That's not good enough for me. I want to know what you're doing and what you're thinking. And if we have a chance to get that extra player who may bring it home for us, I am going to exceed the budget. I am not married to a budget. I am married to a goal.' "

Like many owners, Mr. Angelos clearly gets a kick out of pushing buttons that bring a star player or seal a big-bucks TV deal.

.` What seems to set him apart --

and has raised tensions in the Orioles offices -- is the limited time available to Mr. Angelos to concentrate on baseball.

He remains very active in the law practice, leading the charge to extract huge settlements from asbestos companies whose products are blamed for causing illnesses in thousands of factory workers. The litigation, which began more than 10 years ago, already has earned hundreds of millions of dollars for his firm, and Mr. Angelos says emphatically he has no intention of handing it off to his associates.

He also dabbles in thoroughbred racing, maintaining a stable of several horses, and has taken on a full plate of civic chores, including a seat on Loyola College's board of trustees. He even ** has been approached about running for governor.

Then there is his little investment in the Orioles. Mr. Angelos, the lead investor in a group of about 20 partners, put up approximately $40 million of the $173 million sale price.

A busy schedule

With so many issues competing for his attention, Mr. Angelos spends his days --ing between appointments, a few of which he makes on time, and sorting through the stacks of telephone messages that fall onto his huge desk each day.

When reporters call, he can be remarkably prompt to respond and, in most cases, extremely accommodating. (For this article, Mr. Angelos granted a 3 1/2 -hour interview.)

But for many Orioles employees, getting an audience with Mr. Angelos is difficult.

Mr. Robinson waited several weeks after Mr. Angelos' front-office pronouncements before he was able to see the owner. Once they sat down, the rapport came quickly, Mr. Robinson said.

"I liked him. He laid things on the table," Mr. Robinson said.

"He said things most people wouldn't say to my face: that he'd heard I was tough with kids as far as autographs are concerned, that I am a distant-type person. I appreciated hearing that, because it gave me an opportunity to explain."

Even an appointment with the owner does not guarantee quality time, however. A number of team officials have caught on to the owner's breakneck pace, and make allowances for his habit of summoning them to his office, only to leave them waiting for an hour.

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