Angelos is going far by keeping his distance

May 11, 1994|By John Steadman

That Peter Angelos doesn't know a humpback liner from a delayed steal is no reflection on his lack of baseball knowledge. In this connection, it can be a prerequisite for making him the best franchise owner the Baltimore Orioles ever had. But, in truth, he doesn't have much to beat.

Baltimore has, indeed, had its share of stiffs. It's amazing, in some ways, that the franchise is still standing.

One previous owner, or rather the advertising whiz kids he employed, wanted to alter the dimensions of the field by enlarging the distance between first and third base. Their incongruous rationale was it would produce more space, provide added room for hits to fall and thus correlate to higher run production. This supposedly was going to translate into more interest in baseball and, of course, added Orioles ticket sales.

So far, Angelos hasn't picked himself off base with anything even remotely inane or insane. He has conducted himself with professionalism. Up to now, he hasn't shown any tendencies of becoming one of those instant authorities who arrives on the scene and suddenly knows more about the game than the career people he has working for him.

His initial interest in buying the Orioles was occasioned by a midnight call from a newspaper reporter that piqued his curiosity and set him off on what evolved into a win-at-all-cost effort to buy the club for $173 million at public auction. He is a rookie owner who has made over the Orioles, both in the front office and on the field.

The efforts are A-plus. Check the standings, including the way the Orioles are performing and the community response to the team. His desire is to perform a civic service in seeing the Orioles belong to hometown interests. This merits applause.

Angelos also made a promise before the Orioles even went to training camp that he would not be frequenting the locker room, dugout or be caught leaning against the batting cage. Happy to report, he has not gone back on his word, holding to the premise the clubhouse, dugout and batting cage are areas that belong to the players.

Branch Rickey, one of the most successful of all major-league executives, held to the same philosophy. Of course, Rickey had once been a player and realized how important it was to stay away and let the athletes relax in their environment.

Where most first-time owners make a mistake is deluding themselves into believing they are important. In their own egotistical eyes they tell themselves the players might feel better if they talked regularly on a first-name basis. Instead of being helpful, it makes some athletes nervous and too often puts the owner in a position of being their caddy -- instead of the other way around.

Angelos' watchers observed him on Opening Day make the ceremonial first pitch. It's understandable why he never tried out for baseball at Patterson High. Other than that formal occasion, he reportedly has made only one other trip to the field, during spring training, to accommodate a photographer.

Owners, not only in baseball but other sports, have been known to make themselves into a royal pain in the neck by showing up on the field and getting in the way. They figure, puffed up with themselves, that if their names are on the checks they are part of the show. It's the old instant-expert syndrome.

Angelos, to his credit, hasn't attempted to usurp the authority of general manager Roland Hemond or manager Johnny Oates. Nor has he taken any cheap bows during the early signs of success.

However, he has had input. His instincts, along with the information he got from Hemond, Oates, Doug Melvin and Frank Robinson, told him Lee Smith was a better investment than Gregg Olson and that Rafael Palmeiro was going to help the Orioles more than Will Clark.

He didn't force those decisions but firmly encouraged them.

The longer Angelos holds to his belief that "the field, dugout and locker room" are the province of the players, the better it is for the Orioles. A perfect accommodation. You don't need the boss making small talk, trying to ingratiate himself with the hired hands, or vice versa.

Angelos is to be encouraged to continue his spectator role and enjoy himself. Just stay out of the way and let 'em play.

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