Angelos' Bucs money can go to baseball fight

January 17, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Good thing Peter Angelos saved himself the expense of buying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now he can use the money to fight Major League Baseball in court.

For some crazy reason, Angelos doesn't want to join commissioner Bud Selig and the rest of the dinosaur capitalists plotting to desecrate the national pastime.

Selig insists that each of the 28 clubs would be required to field replacement teams, but let's see him prove it. Let's see him force Angelos to play Buddy Ball.

What can Selig do, order the Orioles to forfeit their replacement games? Ooh, that would hurt. Levy a major fine? No problem, Angelos suddenly has $200 million to burn.

Take away the franchise? That would be too funny, kicking out a major-league owner for refusing to offer a minor-league product. Angelos would sue in about six seconds.

Then again, the owners are going to get hammered by the union in court, so they might want to take on one of their own, to divert attention from the truly messy stuff.

They'd better be ready, now that Angelos is through with the Bucs. He could never prove in court that the NFL advised the trustees to reject his bid. But he has been itching for a fight with Selig and Co. ever since the labor mess started.

Consensus, Selig loves consensus -- that way, he isn't perceived as solely responsible for wrecking the game. But let's see him accommodate the bomb thrower in the B&O warehouse. Let's see him reel in Angelos.

Selig says he can't deal with such hypotheticals right now, because, you know, he's busy settling the strike. But the battle lines are being drawn, and Angelos has the backing of his investors, most notably Tom Clancy.

In theory, the investors could make things difficult for Angelos, arguing that replacement games would help recoup their losses. It's a flawed premise -- these games won't get anyone rich -- and now it's beside the point.

If the investors won't ask Angelos to play, then the only way he will is if he's forced to legally. No one knows if baseball can do that. It isn't every year that an owner who paid $173 million for his team refuses to honor the schedule.

Would it ever reach that point? No one knows that, either. Spring training is still a month away, and collective-bargaining talks zTC might resume shortly. Right now, the two sides are posturing, and their lawyers are hitting the books.

Angelos built his legal fortune representing union members against asbestos manufacturers. He would jeopardize his practice by hiring scabs, and he told the owners in December he was philosophically opposed to the idea.

The fact is, he might be opposed even if he made his millions by exploiting laborers. The reason, of course, would be Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak.

Even Selig would find it difficult to endorse a plan that threatened the streak if Ripken was his own player. Maybe that's the answer then -- trade Ripken to Milwaukee, so the sport could be saved.

Whatever, Angelos is satisfying his two most important constituencies -- his law clients, and his Orioles customers. If he needs to back down, he'll back down, but what's the rush?

No other owner is taking such an adamant position. No other owner is making such a public-relations splash. Most fans consider Angelos the only owner with any sense. Some consider him a hero.

Certainly, he believes in his cause, and that can only mean trouble for Selig. Thought the three-division setup was a disgrace? Wait until you see the three-team American League East without the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays.

Oh, the Jays might play, but it won't be in Canada, where Ontario law forbids the use of replacement workers. Just another minor obstacle facing the owners, another reason why Buddy Ball makes no sense.

Actually, the more uncertainty the better, if it frightens the owners into a settlement. Surely, that also is part of Angelos' thinking. He never wanted this strike. He'll use any leverage he can to end it.

If the owners were smart, they'd recognize that replacement games would be a disaster. Advertising revenue would decline. So would radio and television revenue. And, of course, ticket, concession and parking revenue, too.

The NHL owners abandoned their salary cap and payroll tax demands to save their season, but don't count on that influencing anyone in baseball. Selig and Co. need a more palpable threat. Angelos' is real, and so are the others.

Angelos couldn't persuade his peers to forge a settlement for the right reasons, so now he's attacking from another direction. Let's see how the owners respond. Let's see how they pull off Buddy Ball without him.

Who needs the Buccaneers?

This could be a lot more fun.

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