Angelos needs to make peace with angry blacks

June 13, 1994|By John Steadman

So far it's an encounter that could evolve into a bitter confrontation if reason doesn't prevail. The Baltimore Orioles and some leaders of the black community are at odds over an agreement that was signed by the team's previous administration that is now been virtually ignored. It's the kind of a dispute that needs to be settled posthaste.

A news story and a full-page advertisement in the Baltimore Afro-American accuses Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles, of failing to fulfill what the African-American Task Force on Professional Sports believes is a binding obligation that was worked out with the former president of the team, Larry Lucchino.

The group insists Angelos, by his actions, has ignored the goodwill that was created and has chosen to violate the commitment. Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, chairman of the task force, sharply criticizes Angelos.

"The new ownership group led by Peter Angelos has blatantly disregarded the agreement we reached with the Orioles' corporate representatives last year," Rawlings said. He is asking citizens to join him in insisting the intent of what was agreed upon in a meeting at the Orchard Street Church on July 8, 1993, by Lucchino be carried out by Angelos.

It must be noted that Angelos has long been a champion of black causes. While a member of the City Council, he introduced legislation and led the way for the enactment of the first equal accommodations bill put into law in Baltimore.

Maybe Angelos believes Lucchino gave away too much and now he's faced, a year later, with having to make good on the deal. Angelos only needs to check Lucchino for an explanation. If Rawlings has a document then it would seem Angelos is going to have to abide by its content.

When Angelos bought the Orioles for $173 million at auction, he accepted the contracts of players, stadium rental details and radio-television terms that also were negotiated and put in place Lucchino. The sternly worded Afro-American letter to Angelos, signed by Rawlings and 32 other members of the African-American Task Force, says, in part:

"The construction of the stadium would not have even occurred without the substantial support of the elected officials from the African-American community. Also the debt service payments on the stadium construction bonds are derived from the lottery which our community plays in significant numbers.

"We find it completely unacceptable that you have, in effect, rendered our good faith agreement with the Baltimore Orioles null and void. We're also appalled by your lack of responsiveness at our repeated attempts to discuss the agreement further.

"We are calling for immediate action on the July 1993 agreement in its entirety. It's that simple. A process must be established to assure that the Baltimore Orioles will act with integrity and immediacy to honor the tenets of our agreement."

This is one issue Angelos needs to handle with dispatch. It's obvious Rawlings will not relent in his quest to make the Orioles' new ownership respect what was agreed upon by the former president of the club.

The Angelos-Lucchino involvement is interesting. When Angelos bought the team, Lucchino was perceived to be on the outside looking in and later was bought out by the incoming ownership. Then, in something of an upset, Lucchino surfaced as an unofficial adviser to Angelos. But then last week Lucchino represented the Miami Marlins at the owners' meeting in Cincinnati.

On another matter, which seems petty, the Orioles have denied publisher Ted Venetoulis the right to use the name Oriole Gazette on his newspaper that is in its third year of publication. The Orioles also said the abbreviation of "O's" belongs to them but, actually, it was first used by the Miami Herald and Miami News in its sports page headlines when the team trained there.

In an editorial, the Gazette takes issue with the Orioles' action: "So for the time being at least, we'll just call the magazine The Gazette, and you'll note we've added a baseball bearing the word Baltimore in script between the seams so everyone will know what we're about. Unless the Orioles think they also own title to the word Baltimore, we'll go with it."

The Gazette, at best, is a fringe moneymaker, and its acceptability, to a degree, is credited to the editorial direction of Venetoulis' chief editor, Bob Brown, who has done a superb job. The name Oriole Gazette wasn't hurting the Orioles. To the contrary, it was a highly professional undertaking with an independence that kept it from being a house organ.

This kind of a dispute differs from what Angelos has going with the African-American Task Force on Professional Sports. But both arguments are the type the Orioles and Angelos don't need.

Resolve them for the sake of harmony. The disagreements never should have happened.

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