In Tampa Bay, Angelos Is Public Enemy No. 1

January 08, 1995|By JON MORGAN

They've called him a buzzard, a carpetbagger, a faker, a bully and a meddler.

Investors from several cities have sniffed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the intention of moving them every place from St. Louis to Toronto. But it's Baltimore, and the diminutive giant Peter Angelos, that terrify Floridians most.

"I hate Angelos. He's a bully. He can come in and buy whatever he wants. We're peons; he thinks we don't matter, but he's wrong," a Bucs fan, Lynn Bodemann, told the Tampa Tribune at a recent game.

Mr. Angelos has been negotiating to buy the team for weeks, and the trustees selling the franchise hoped for a flurry of activity this weekend as their first bid -- from a group intending to keep the Bucs in Tampa -- expires tomorrow.

Mr. Angelos, unknown to Tampa six months ago, is now a household name. And it's not a good name. Newspaper columnists and talk show hosts have made him the personification of Tampa's football insecurities, calling him the "grim reaper" and "Tampa Public Enemy No. 1."

"By now we know a great many things about Peter Angelos. We know he is rich. We know he is loud. We know there should be wanted posters up any day now," wrote St. Petersburg Times columnist Gary Shelton.

"We know that when Angelos' ship finally came in, it was filled with asbestos, so he sued. We know he owns both the Orioles and the American League's loosest lips," Mr. Shelton says.

Across town, Tampa Tribune columnist Martin Fennelly credited Mr. Angelos with provoking local political leaders into taking the loss of the team seriously. Hecalls the Orioles managing partner and prospective Bucs bidder the "mechanical rabbit, who has set the pace. He is the energizer -- he keeps going and going and going. . . ."

Writers point out, fairly, that Mr. Angelos is unpopular with his fellow baseball team owners, and was harsh with Orioles manager Johnny Oates. But several have gone one step further: referring to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner -- the original bad boy of baseball and a potential Bucs bidder -- as a local savior and "white knight" compared to Mr. Angelos.

This is the same Steinbrenner who was twice banned from baseball: in 1974 for making illegal campaign contributions to Richard M. Nixon, and in 1990 for giving $40,000 to a gambler who allegedly offered incriminating information on then-Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield.

A native of Ohio, Mr. Steinbrenner bought a house in Tampa in the 1970s to be near a shipyard he owns, and which has since filed for bankruptcy. So he gets the local treatment.

"Whatever the rest of the nation may think about him, Steinbrenner has long been Tampa Bay's white knight. In some ways, he is Dr. Doom, the comic book character who was revered in his country but reviled outside of it," Mr. Shelton wrote.

He correctly points to Mr. Steinbrenner's philanthropy and involvement in civic affairs in Tampa.

But Mr. Fennelly, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, says: "Angelos rightly is assailed as a meddler; he crawled into the ears and onto the brain of one Johnny Oates. . . . A frightened Tampa Bay would turn to a cooler head, a hands-off savior: George Steinbrenner."

This, the Steinbrenner who's changed managers 18 times. Billy Martin alone was fired five times.

Mr. Angelos, whose thin skin is beginning to thicken in the spotlight, takes it all in stride. The Oates household exempted, Mr. Angelos is popular at home, so popular that some urged him to run for governor last year. His management style is autocratic, and his public statements impolitic, but Orioles fans seem happy he's kept a local accent in the team's owner's box.

"What are you going to do?" Mr. Angelos says when asked about the Florida accounts. "It would be nice if people got this excited about the movement of a manufacturing plant or an entire industry out of the country."

Jon Morgan writes about business-related sports issues for The Baltimore Sun.

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