From questions to controversies, Angelos takes head-on approach

February 16, 1997|By John Steadman

Owning a major-league baseball team isn't exactly the essence of ecstasy. Nor is it to be correlated with standing in front of a firing squad. Maybe somewhere in between. Good days and bad. Happiness and despair. Wins, losses and called on account of rain. A truly emotional and expensive experience awaits the proprietor of any sports franchise.

It might sound altruistic, almost too good to be true, but in the case of Peter Angelos, he bought the Orioles to re-establish a Baltimore lineage, to maintain ownership and remove all concern that the team was being operated to turn a profit, or could eventually be moved elsewhere rather than continue its residency where the game had been played on a major- and minor-league basis for 125 years.

To achieve this objective, he became the majority owner of the Orioles, certainly one of the most historic of all team names. After three full seasons, and record crowd counts, Angelos and his 19 partners have yet to avail themselves of even a penny return on their investment.

In 1993 it took a then-record $173 million to acquire the property, bats, balls and other equipment, including the certificate of ownership, from the financially distressed Eli Jacobs. Players have been paid exorbitant sums in salaries and bonuses as Angelos has gone to the extreme in playing the precarious game of checkbook baseball.

What reaction does Angelos have now? Would he do it all over again? These and other questions were put to him in an interview that covered everything from his Orioles dealings, to trying to buy a shipyard, to wondering whether he'll run for governor of Maryland.

What has owning the Orioles meant to you?

"A huge headache. But, no, I'm kidding with that. Being able to maintain Baltimore ownership. That's what I think was important at the time and also now. I'm partial, but I believe the Orioles represent the finest ownership group in baseball."

Has it been a learning experience?

"Mostly in dealing with the media. Some of them believe you hand over a $50 million annual investment in player salaries alone and go away. It doesn't work that way, not with any franchise. No owner in any business or sport is going to make that kind of a commitment and then not have input. You must be aware of what's happening. I head an enormously important team and, like any business, if you're at the top, you have a voice in its operation."

Do you feel that the state of Maryland gave Art Modell and his pro football team much more -- a stadium built to his own specifications, free rent for 30 years and other concessions -- after you and your partners put up $173 million of your own money to buy the Orioles?

"I was a strong advocate of completing the Camden Yards sports complex. It's what I wanted for Baltimore. The city deserved to be in the National Football League. That's why I bid $215 million to get the team in Tampa Bay with a desire to move it to Baltimore. How we eventually got in the NFL is old hat, best forgotten."

Will your contract with the Maryland Stadium Authority enforce the parity agreement?

"I believe we will prevail in all areas where we should. Yes, I think we will achieve that goal."

Are you contemplating a run for the governorship of Maryland?

"I have been bombarded with requests. Holding government office is a civic responsibility. But my friend and political adviser, Frank Sliwka, has advised me against it," he noted in an obvious attempt at humor.

Are reports correct that you contributed $100,000 to the Clinton campaign and $75,000 to another Democratic fund?

"My personal donations are something I prefer to keep to myself. I'm a devoted Democrat, proud of it. I ask nothing in return. But I did warm up President Clinton before he threw out the first ball at one of the Oriole games."

What's your relationship with club general manager Pat Gillick and manager Dave Johnson?

"Sometimes we have our differences, but I respect them and hope they feel the same about me. Everyone in our baseball operation has the perfect right to express opinions that I don't necessarily have to agree with, including Pat, Dave, Kevin Malone, Syd Thrift and others."

Will any of your ownership partners change?

"No, not that I know about."

Is there any compelling incentive for them to be associated with the club?

"They are a part of the history of baseball and the Orioles. All they get out of it in a tangible way are two tickets a year, the chance to attend a meeting at the spring training site, to be updated on plans for the new season and a party."

What other projects are you considering?

"I want to buy a 727 [jet] to transport the team. We're investigating it now. If not for this year, then next."

Has your chance of buying BethShip been officially terminated?

"If the deal isn't consummated by another buyer, then we are on record with what we'll do. My chief goal was to re-establish ship construction in Baltimore and help the job picture."

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