Integrity stands uppermost in Angelos' accomplishments

October 12, 1997|By JOHN STEADMAN

Almost everything Peter Angelos has achieved was decided in a court of law or by making a perceptive business deal and not being afraid to risk his own money. The same with the Orioles, who could be on the verge of running a pennant up the flag pole. He went about hiring the best available men to work for him Pat Gillick, Kevin Malone, Davey Johnson, Syd Thrift, Don Buford, et al.

The same with players and a payroll of $58 million. Angelos hasn't become a spectacular success in his profession, plus a myriad of other endeavors, without demonstrating extraordinary motivation. Aggressive? Yes. But his style has never been associated with unethical intent; nor has he trampled on others en route to where he is today.

Literally and legally speaking, he keeps his own counsel. He has friends and self-styled advisers who make suggestions and he listens -- but that doesn't mean he's going to accept their well-intended opinions. That's not his way; he's always called his own signals.

Angelos has yet to be a rubber-stamp or a pushover, on the streets of his old neighborhood, in the workplace, the courtroom or now, as he approaches the regal role of senior statesman, in a law firm that employs 85 lawyers with branches in New York; Philadelphia; Washington; Wilmington, Del.; Pittsburgh; Harrisburg, Pa.; Hagerstown; Cumberland; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Memphis, Tenn.

When the record is reviewed, he's reminiscent of a modern Horatio Alger -- a kid from the other side of the tracks -- in this case Highlandtown, a working-class community where carrying a lunch pail to the daily job is a badge of honor.

Angelos enters Jimmy's Restaurant in Dundalk and is afforded a grand reception. Old friends, some with multiple college degrees and others who didn't even get out of elementary school, work for him in various positions and are left on their own to perform. As he walks the streets of Baltimore, he's readily recognized and perceived as something of a classic civic servant.

It was this month, 30 years ago, when Angelos opened a family restaurant, Perring Place. Boyhood friends Sam Bates and Ed Healy were the managers. Bates is still in charge and Healy's son helps run the business. He doesn't scrutinize the menu or implement changes in the kitchen because of the confidence and comfort he finds in how Bates and Healy handle the operation.

Angelos' entrance into baseball four years ago was surprising. His financial status had vastly improved, the result of taking legal action on behalf of former factory workers in places where asbestos poisoned the environment and was detrimental to their health.

Subsequently, he believed the Orioles, when they became available, deserved to be owned by Baltimore interests. That's what drove him to pay, at public auction, a then unprecedented $173 million for the franchise.

"I will never sell the Orioles," he insists. "Furthermore, I wouldn't consider it." Now, because of his willingness to spend money for players, the Orioles are in pursuit of the American League pennant and a World Series. When it was casually mentioned that the most difficult thing to do in sports is to keep winning, he said, without any trace of affirmation:

"Why not? Maybe we can't be the kind of dynasty the New York Yankees were with Casey Stengel but we could certainly be a present-day equivalent. It can be done. That's what I want. You ask if having the Orioles the last four years has been the enjoyment I thought it would be. I can't tell you because such a thing was beyond my imagination, considering where I came from, so as a child or young man I never thought about it."

Angelos isn't one to lament how conditions were before good fortune arrived. It may make for good drama but he doesn't revel in relating chapter and verse of the life and times of Peter Angelos, the son of a tavern owner. He worked in the shipyard, stretched out flat on his back, painting hulls; in a can company where the noise drove him into an early resignation and then as a bartender in his father's saloons and restaurants. The worst job he ever had? "Being on garbage detail in the Army. I had no choice. It was an order. But the Army was a great experience."

What's the highest compliment you've received? "That's easy. When my hometown newspaper [The Baltimore Sun] says on its editorial pages that I have integrity. That word is more important than any other. When your daily newspaper refers to you as an individual with integrity that, to me, is the ultimate commendation."

Can he say that he has learned valuable lessons in baseball? Is he smarter, more perceptive than before? Does the game have insurmountable problems or have the media exaggerated the state of the sport by relying on the often dire message derived from television polls? What's his reaction as he surveys the complete picture?

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