Latest flip-flop isn't just the ticket

June 08, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Middle of the day, middle of the homestand, middle of the season.

A fine time to change policies, a fine time to alienate fans, a fine time to panic.

Why should anyone be surprised?

On the field and off, the Orioles make it up as they go along.

Back in the old days, when people cared about baseball, the Orioles would exchange any ticket just about any time, knowing they'd sell out regardless.

As of yesterday, no more.

Plenty of seats are available, and someone must suffer.

Who would that be, Peter Angelos, oh man of the people, oh friend of the little guy, oh champion of the working stiff?

Start with the usual suckers.

Start with the fans.

Angelos' fellow owners will be delighted.

He's one of the boys now.

The game keeps self-destructing, and the owners are so busy trying to recoup their losses, they don't even notice.

The Orioles should be thinking of new ways to attract fans to Camden Yards. Instead, they're thinking of new ways to keep them out.

Yes, fans actually were turned away yesterday when they tried to exchange tickets. Alas, they did not know of the latest decree from Peter the Great.

Angelos might as well have been standing outside the park, shouting into a megaphone, "You will go when you're supposed to go -- or else!"

In fairness, the Orioles are ditching the most liberal exchange policy in baseball. Since moving to Camden Yards, they've basically ignored the fact that the tickets say, "No exchanges."

The new policy brings them in line with other clubs. The new policy would not have been unreasonable if enacted last winter.

It's the timing that's the killer.

Does anyone in this organization ever think decisions through?

From the lowest assistant to the highest executive, the Orioles' front office was once the envy of baseball. Now that Angelos has purged nearly everyone who preceded him, it's in chaos.

Schedule three exhibition games, cancel two. Antagonize your fantasy-camp director, lose Brook Robinson. Offer Ben McDonald $3.2 million in arbitration, take a $4.5 million pounding.

The ticket exchange fiasco is merely the latest blunder. In their arrogance, the Orioles never expected attendance to drop 17 percent. They figured the team would be great, and the Angelos mystique would save them.

Guess what?

The team isn't so great.

And the fans are so turned off, they don't care if Angelos was a hero during the strike.

It's the old story -- supply exceeds demand. And suddenly, fans with tickets for poor draws like Seattle are trading them for tickets for better draws like Boston and New York.

Seattle is in town, California visits next.

That explains the timing.

The panic.

Under the new policy, season ticket holders can exchange tickets to games featuring the same opponent or six alternate dates, up to 24 hours prior to game time. Individual tickets will no longer be exchanged.

How much will this save the Orioles? The best guess is about $500,000. How much will it cost them in goodwill? That's a better question, one Angelos chose to ignore.

First, he raised ticket prices during the strike, and now he's trashing one of his few fan-friendly policies. Any short-term gain will be offset by long-term pain. Don't you get it, Peter? The fans already are fed up.

This boils down to a simple but critical question: How much of a profit do the Orioles expect to turn in 1995? If they're willing to risk a public-relations nightmare for the price of a backup catcher, maybe things aren't quite so rosy.

Angelos overpaid for the club, spent big money on free agents, then took a massive hit during the strike. It would be

understandable if the financial picture was relatively bleak -- and understandable if Angelos tightened the screws further.

Who can figure this out? The Orioles' average salary was the fourth highest in the majors before McDonald won his arbitration case, and with Mike Mussina's salary yet to be determined. Yet even now, they're discussing trades that would add to the payroll.

Of course, discussing is one thing, and completing is another. Yes, general manager Roland Hemond is ineffective at closing deals. Then again, if Angelos doesn't hold him to a budget, why did he back out of trades for Marquis Grissom and John Wetteland in April?

Was he merely incompetent?

Or, was he discouraged by a cost-conscious owner?

Angelos is too macho to admit that he can't get every player he wants, but obviously he's growing more mindful of the bottom line. When you sink this low, do something this petty, you've not trying to win back fans, you're running for cover.

Middle of the day, middle of the homestand, middle of the season.

A fine time to pull this stunt.

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