It is pushing 9 p.m. and the lights are still burning at The Law Offices of Peter Angelos. The Orioles principal owner has to work overtime to keep up with his burgeoning business empire, which stretches from his successful law practice to his baseball team to a proposed Inner Harbor hotel complex and beyond.
The baseball team, predictably, gets the most public attention, providing enough headlines and headaches to make Angelos wonder why he ponied up $173 million to bail out the struggling franchise in 1993, but he has steered it into regular contention and -- it appears -- into a new era of stability and tranquility.
He has traded in willful manager Davey Johnson for down-to-earth Ray Miller. He has created a front office line of succession that should allow the organization to maintain its dual focus on winning and player development beyond the tenure of soon-to-retire general manager Pat Gillick. He succeeded in settling potentially divisive contract disputes with marquee players Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina and Brady Anderson, entrenching the veteran nucleus of a team that has reached the American League Championship Series the past two seasons.
Could it be that he has achieved peace in our time?
Angelos chuckles at that.
"How could I be part of all this in light of all the irrational things I do?" he says sarcastically. "Three months ago, we were characterized [in the media] as an organization that was about to fall apart and lose our fans."
Clearly the sting of the Davey Johnson episode has not entirely subsided. Angelos still believes that he was unjustly vilified for his part in the controversial departure of Johnson, who sealed his own fate when he tried to divert a large fine to a charity employing his wife and then embarked on a transparent media campaign for a contract extension. But that was last year.
Angelos has every reason to feel good about this year. He was the one who lured Miller back to Baltimore to rejuvenate the Orioles' pitching staff 16 months ago, and he didn't hesitate to give him the run of the club after Johnson resigned in November.
"I think he is what a baseball manager should be," Angelos said earlier this month. "Hopefully, he'll be successful."
If not, it won't be for lack of support from the front office. The Orioles are expected to have the second-highest payroll in baseball this year (behind only the rival New York Yankees), even though Angelos was able to re-sign three of the club's top stars without fueling baseball's salary spiral.
This is where Angelos has undergone an amazing change of identity in the 4 1/2 years that he has owned the club. He was one of the supposed free spenders that baseball's ruling elite was trying to harness during an ill-fated attempt to impose a salary cap on the players during the early 1990s. Now, he looks like a fiscal conservative compared to some of the same owners who were spearheading the salary cap movement.
Angelos chuckles at that, too. It's not as if he is afraid to spend whatever it takes to win. He already has proven the contrary.
"We might end up with the highest payroll in baseball," he said, "but it won't be comprised of players who make $10-$12 million per year. The economics of baseball won't permit that. We will pay players as much as we legitimately can afford, because we are committed to what we feel are the greatest fans in baseball, but we are not going to be involved in paying those exorbitant salaries."
That will be a tough stance to maintain if the salary spiral continues. The Orioles have a de facto salary cap -- the $6-plus million that they will pay Ripken, Anderson and Mussina this year -- but it will be challenged by first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and second baseman Roberto Alomar, both of whom may command far more if they enter the free-agent market next November.
Angelos has taken a very hands-on role in the club's attempt to keep the payroll under control. He personally conducted negotiations with Ripken, Mussina and Anderson and signed all of them to contracts that are considered to be well below market value. Angelos is a shrewd negotiator with a knack for getting what he wants and a stubborn streak when it comes to doing what he thinks is best for business.
"Mr. Angelos is committed to winning," said assistant general manager Kevin Malone. "He likes to be involved, and one of the many things he feels he can help is with the negotiations and contracts of our marquee players."
Angelos entrusts the day-to-day financial operation to vice chairman Joe Foss and the baseball operations to general manager Pat Gillick and Malone. It is, by all accounts, one of the most able front office staffs in the game, but he is not afraid to overrule the baseball executives, as he did when the club considered trading outfielder Bobby Bonilla and pitcher David Wells midway through the 1996 season.
Win at all costs?