Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been saying for months that Orioles fans are dead set against the use of replacement players. Yesterday, he released the results of an independent poll that backed up his opinion.
The poll of Orioles season-ticket holders, conducted recently by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, showed that an overwhelming majority of the club's fans disapprove of Major League Baseball's plan to use replacement players if the 5 1/2 -month players strike does not end by Opening Day.
"I took that position before the survey," Angelos said yesterday, "but in our judgment, this confirms in a scientific way that using replacement players would generate a long-lasting negative reaction on the part of the fans -- toward baseball in general and toward the Orioles' franchise."
The results, which ran 77 percent to 22 percent against the use of strikebreakers, stand in contrast to polls conducted by Major League Baseball, which show that a majority of fans would watch replacement baseball. The latest MLB poll results are expected to be released by the commissioner's office tomorrow.
"We've done quite a lot of polls," said MLB spokesman Rich Levin. "Our polls and all of the polls we've seen contradict the Orioles' poll."
That isn't surprising, since most of the other polls have surveyed the general population of baseball fans. The Orioles' poll surveyed 500 of the club's most ardent -- and financially committed -- customers.
If Major League Baseball officials question the legitimacy of that approach, Angelos feels just as strongly that their polling data misses the mark. So, he sent the results of his poll to each of the other 27 major-league owners in the hope of persuading them to abandon the replacement concept.
"What's significant about our poll is that it is season-ticket holders," Angelos said. "They are the financial foundation of every major-league franchise. I would hope that it would alert owners all over to the very negative consequences of using unqualified players in place of major-league players."
It seems unlikely that his message will get across, but the poll had a dual purpose. Not only does it confirm Angelos' position that Baltimore fans are against the strikebreaker concept, but it also may provide some ammunition if the Orioles are forced to defend that position in a court action against Major League Baseball.
The American League sent attorney William Schweitzer to Baltimore recently to warn Angelos that he could be subject to heavy fines and the possible revocation of his franchise if he does not act in accordance with the wishes of the majority of clubs. But if that happens, look for Angelos to file suit, alleging that Major League Baseball is trying to force him to act against the best interests of both the game and his franchise.
The poll showed that 94 percent of Orioles season-ticket and partial-plan holders hold a positive view toward the team, but that fell to 17 percent when respondents were asked whether they still would feel positive about the club if it fielded a replacement team. Seventy-two percent said that it would be in the best interests of baseball to cancel the 1995 season rather than play it with strikebreakers; only 22 percent held the opposite opinion.
Angelos didn't need a polling firm to tell him that he is on solid ground with Baltimore fans. Mayor Kurt Schmoke and the city council will consider at least one bill that would discourage the use of replacement players at Camden Yards.
"That was a welcome expression of support for the Orioles' position that the use of replacement players is harmful to baseball and inconsistent with the wishes of Orioles fans and baseball fans in general," Angelos said. "Obviously, teams are going to sustain substantial financial damage if they do so."
The results of some of the questions in a poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, Inc. concerning the possible use of replacement players in major-league baseball:
* If no agreement is reached between the players and owners, one of the ideas proposed by some of the owners is to lock out the current players and replace them with minor-league or other baseball players who would be willing to play. Would you favor or oppose this proposal?
Favor .... 16
Oppose ... 80
* Suppose replacement players took the places of current Orioles players and started the baseball season playing replacement players from other major-league teams. Would you consider this arrangement to be major-league baseball or not?
Yes ...... 10
No ....... 88
Depends ... 1
Not sure .. 1
* Suppose games with replacement players were to be played. How much interest would you have in these games?
A great deal ... 3
Quite a bit .... 7
Just some ..... 20
Very little ... 27
None .......... 42
Not sure ....... 1
* If replacement games are played, will your feelings toward major-league baseball become much more positive, somewhat more positive, somewhat more negative, much more negative, or will your feelings toward major-league baseball not change at all?
Much more positive ....... 1
Somewhat more positive ... 4
Somewhat more negative .. 26
Much more negative ...... 47
No change at all ........ 21
Not sure ...... .......... 1
* Suppose the Orioles organization said it would not participate in games that included replacement players. This would mean forfeiting all these games. Would you favor or oppose this decision?
Favor ..... 82
Oppose .... 13
Not sure ... 5