Strike stranger than fiction to Tom Clancy

January 04, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

If Tom Clancy, an artist with words whose novels sell into the millions and command record monetary returns, had endeavored to anticipate the baseball shutdown by way of creating it in manuscript form, it would have been rejected on the basis of implausible fiction.

But here's Clancy, who abandoned an earlier interest in a possible pro football franchise for Baltimore so he could be close to baseball ("a family decision," he called it), wondering why a suspension in play ever had to happen. It's a major-league plot, one that even his extensive powers of imagination never could have conceived.

A double suicide, financially speaking, leaves little chance for getting the story line back into shape. That's where baseball, sad to relate, finds itself today.

Asked to enlighten the world around him with his perception of how it evolved to such a point, the second-leading investor in the Baltimore Orioles simply described the impasse as "ego getting in the way of intelligence -- kind of like nations failing to understand a necessity to shut down the weapons race or two kids fighting over trading baseball cards."

Clancy is disillusioned that the sport, more accurately a business, has come to this. He believes the ability to think clearly, on the part of the players association and the franchise owners, self-destructed out of total ignorance.

"Maybe I shouldn't say that," he said. "Integrity is the real issue because all the owners of the teams and players on those teams have to sell is trust and goodwill and it seems to me they are throwing it away."

Along with majority owner Peter Angelos, who is the Orioles' foremost investor in a deal that bought the club at public auction for $173 million 17 months ago, Clancy insists there will be a season. Why? "I guess you have to believe in something," he replied.

Asked for reasoning more specific than that, he was quick to add: "Look, this is not a linear process. Everything at one point will fall into place. That's the history of every work stoppage. Yes, I'm optimistic. When I talked with Peter Angelos last week he also believed the problems will be solved. Yes, there will be a season."

Does he offer equal blame to both sides in the issue of shutting down the grand old game? "It takes two to tango, doesn't it?" he replied.

If Clancy could have imposed any personal desire on the baseball hierarchy, it's that Angelos would have been utilized in helping solve the dilemma. So far that hasn't happened.

When Clancy and Angelos became involved in ownership of the Orioles, there were sideline cynics who said two strong-willed, outspoken individuals such as Angelos and Clancy would not be a compatible fit. But to this point such hasn't been the case; they enjoy each other's company and express a reciprocal respect.

"I don't want you to take this the wrong way, or think I'm being pompous, but out of all the smart folks I've had the opportunity to meet, Peter Angelos is in the top five," Clancy said. "He has intelligence, perspective and integrity. He's a resource of considerable value and I believe he could have made a difference in finding a solution to baseball problems."

In what particular way? "First off, he has a brain," snapped Clancy in his typical prickly, succinct way. Clancy didn't say so, but it prompted a listener to draw the conclusion that maybe he believes some of the others involved in the skirmish can't think their way out of a telephone booth, which indeed mirrors the mass of public reaction.

Then Clancy proceeds to cite three reasons why Angelos should have been included in the strategy plans and the heavy-duty work of fighting through the rhetoric and the roadblocks.

"No. 1, Peter is a skilled negotiator," said Clancy. "He also knows how to bring labor and management together. Don't overlook his exceptional record for achieving results. And, No. 3, and don't forget this, he is a reasonable gentleman.

"This is one of the most judicious people I have ever met or heard about. He thinks things through. I believe the reason he hasn't been utilized is that as head of the Orioles he's new to the 'ownership club.' It goes back to what I pointed out earlier. Ego has gotten in the way of intelligence. It's as if those involved have parked their reasons for coming to an equitable decision somewhere outside."

Would Clancy have put up $20 million in cash to go with Angelos' reported personal investment of $46 million to own the Orioles if he knew then what was going to happen?

"I honestly don't know," he said. "But I can say with the strongest of conviction that I wouldn't have entered into the kind of investment I made if I didn't think highly of my partner."

So Angelos and Clancy, along with 19 minority investors, didn't get their money's worth. The game closed down in mid-August. It's an experience no other rookie owners in the history of the major leagues have had to endure.

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