Annoyed Fellow Owners May Throw Angelos A Curve

April 23, 1995|By Brad Snyder and Mark Hyman | Brad Snyder and Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writers

Some resent him. Some hardly tolerate him. The question is whether Peter Angelos' fellow baseball owners now will try to punish him.

Beginning with Wednesday's Opening Day, Orioles fans will be following the American League East pennant race. They might also keep an eye on how Mr. Angelos fares with other major-league owners, who are angry with the Orioles owner because of his refusal to field replacement players during the baseball strike.

The owners may act to ensure that things do not go Mr. Angelos' way, perhaps by hampering the Orioles' efforts to build the team through trades and free-agent signings or by providing financial competition with an expansion into Northern Virginia.

"If I am in the American League, and he has caused this problem, I'm going to make it hard on him because he made it hard on us," said Sal Bando, a Milwaukee Brewers senior vice president.

"Will people want to go out of their way to support him and benefit him?" Sandy Alderson, president and general manager of the Oakland Athletics, asked about Mr. Angelos. "I'd say it's unlikely."

Former players union chief Marvin Miller believes it's just a matter of time for the Orioles owner. "They are going to give him something to worry about," Mr. Miller said. "Eventually they will have a tool with which to punish him."

Not everyone is convinced that retribution is likely. "I just think it is a fairy tale that they would be vindictive," former baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said. "I don't see them reacting, because baseball people, above all, want to win."

If Mr. Angelos is worried about the consequences of annoying his fellow owners, he hasn't shown it. And he hardly sounds contrite.

"Do we all have to be united when the majority decides to do something destructive?" he asked in a recent interview. "Do I look like a lemming? Are we a bunch of circus elephants walking around in a circle? Suppose we all decide to burn this building down. Must we all go quietly to find the matches?"

Rankling other owners

Mr. Angelos always has taken the lead -- as an independent-thinking city councilman, as the head of his law firm and as the majority owner of the Orioles. That assertiveness -- from someone in baseball only 20 months -- has rankled other team owners, many of whom have been in the game for decades.

He lectured them at one of his first owners' meetings, proposing what they perceived as naive solutions to complex problems. He rejected their negotiating strategy with the union, then met secretly with union chief Don Fehr. He boasted of Camden Yards as a financial cure-all and recommended building similar parks in ailing major-league cities.

Then he refused to hire replacement players -- eager minor leaguers, retired players and amateurs -- to replace striking union members. Mr. Angelos further aggravated the owners with his provocative quotes in magazines and newspapers across the country.

What really galled them was that the Orioles owner seemed to portray his stance as morally superior -- to protect fans and to defend the honor of baseball. They believed Mr. Angelos' true motive was to protect his relationship with union members, whose asbestos claims have been his most lucrative legal cases.

"I don't think there is a principle involved on the Baltimore side," Mr. Alderson said. "I think what is involved is politics. The Baltimore special interest has been served here, not principle."

As Mr. Alderson's comments were read back to Mr. Angelos, he did a slow burn. He sipped a glass of iced tea. Finally, he said: "Alderson would have difficulty identifying principle because he is not very familiar with the meaning of the word.

"Is he saying I am doing this for political reasons? What possible political reasons? To ingratiate oneself with a special interest group such as labor? I guess that's the only context in which he can see things."

Competition as payback

Politics cuts both ways, of course. A franchise in the Washington suburbs, baseball insiders say, would be payback for Mr. Angelos' outspokenness. "They will relish the idea of somebody going in and providing competition for him," a National League executive said.

Northern Virginia was not taken seriously as an expansion site for more than two decades. In March, after Mr. Angelos had staked out his anti-replacement position, the owners' expansion committee heard two proposals for Northern Virginia expansion and reportedly recommended awarding a team there by the end of the decade.

How much would competition from the Washington suburbs hurt the Orioles financially? Washingtonians make up 25 percent of the team's season ticket holders and 30 percent of its overall attendance, according to Joe Foss, an Orioles vice chairman.

'They're going to retaliate'

In a February profile in the Los Angelos Times magazine, Mr. Angelos said the threatened expansion in Northern Virginia was orchestrated by acting Commissioner Bud Selig and others to silence him. "They're going to retaliate against me," he said.

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