Peter Angelos met with American League lawyer William Schweitzer in Baltimore yesterday in the clearest signal yet that major-league owners are pressuring the Orioles owner to comply with their plans to start the baseball season with replacements for striking major-league players.
Angelos and Schweitzer spoke for about 90 minutes in Angelos' Camden Yards office. The league lawyer also delivered a letter from AL president Gene Budig. The letter apparently referred to baseball's constitutional powers and reminded Angelos of steps that could be taken if the Orioles refuse to participate in the replacement games.
Those measures could include $250,000 fines and, if Angelos persists, a move to seize the Orioles franchise.
"The league constitution is clearly enforceable, but we do not want to use that power," Budig said yesterday from his New York office. "All clubs have obligations under the constitution. We are not going to deal in public threats. It would not be in the best interests of Major League Baseball to do so."
Budig's comments, the strongest by a baseball official on the subject of Angelos' anti-replacement campaign, underscore the seriousness with which the league views the situation in Baltimore.
But Budig insisted the latest developments aren't meant to heat up the dispute with the Orioles owner.
"Mr. Angelos has strong views, and we respect them. But the league has inescapable obligations to all members," Budig said. "We continue to expect the clubs to meet schedule commitments."
Angelos, speaking last night, said he'd had a "cordial" meeting with Schweitzer, but seemed unswayed.
"The position set forth by Bill Schweitzer essentially is that by terms of the American League constitution, an owner of a major-league baseball club could be compelled to do anything the majority decides he or she ought to do," Angelos said. "I submit that that is grossly incorrect. My reading tells me otherwise."
Angelos added that Baltimore fans don't want replacement games, and he backed up that contention with results from a season-ticket buyer poll commissioned by the Orioles.
Angelos disclosed some of the results yesterday. Among them: 94 percent of ticket buyers surveyed said they now have an "overall positive feeling" about the Orioles compared with 17 percent if the Orioles use replacement players. The results don't figure to influence many of Angelos' fellow owners.
"There have been lots of polls taken in a lot of areas. They're all very interesting," Milwaukee Brewers owner and acting commissioner Bud Selig said last night. "Until we see results, I can't comment."
Selig also declined to comment on Angelos and the dispute over replacement games.
Angelos has been openly contemptuous of the owners' plan to hire ballplayers to take the place of striking major-leaguers. At an owners meeting in December, he cited the effect replacement games would have in ending Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak, and said he'd have nothing to do with the plan.
Despite that, owners have pressed ahead. Many teams are in the process of signing replacement players and holding tryout camps. And though the full complement of owners has not yet approved, the replacement games have the recommendation of the Executive Council, baseball's ruling body of owners.
nTC Budig has said that he is confident the league can force Angelos to put a team on the field or risk losing the Orioles franchise.
To support that contention, league officials cite Section 3.8 of the AL constitution, which gives the league the power to terminate membership for "willfully violating . . . any order of the president" or "any act, omission, transaction or conduct found by the league not to be in the best interests of baseball."
There's little precedent for a league taking over a major-league franchise. It has never occurred in circumstances like those facing Angelos. In 1976, the National League briefly took control of the San Francisco Giants when owner Horace Stoneham had financial problems. The team was quickly sold.
More recently, ex-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent advanced an undisclosed sum of money to the Detroit Tigers to underwrite the club and its then owner, Tom Monaghan.
Any action by the league to terminate Angelos as owner of the Orioles would require a hearing and approval of 10 of the league's 14 members.
The American League's other options are spelled out in Section 6.5 of its constitution, which gives Budig the power to fine or suspend anyone for conduct "which is not in the best interests of baseball." While the limit for fines is $250,000, the league could claim each missed game was a new violation.