In Angelos, Baltimore has a man very rich in dollars and sense

June 14, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

No duplicity or trickery. Loyal to friends and causes. Willing to take chances when those of timidity back away. Peter Angelos, a power hitter in the Baltimore community, is a man of astonishing drive, drawing on a seemingly unending supply of energy, working 12-hour days, with more balls in the air, in and out of baseball, than a circus juggler.

This is his fifth season as owner of the Orioles, a time to recount and make assessments. Ups and downs. Positives and negatives. What comes into clear perspective is the man himself. Opinionated. Sincere. Honest. Like him or not, be you friend or foe, he's devoid of hyperbole. A throwback, in a way, to a long-lost era when men of conviction were among us who didn't mind standing up to take positions that might be unpopular with the masses.

Has he been good for Baltimore and its franchise? Without a doubt. There has never been an Orioles owner with such an obsessive desire to win. He stacked so much money into the salary structure of 1998, a total of $69 million, that he achieved the highest payroll in major-league history. Yet results so far haven't produced anything perceived as value received. When the team was floundering and in last place, he said, "I wasn't bothered in the least. I view baseball as a human institution filled with successes and failures. There are times that no matter how hard you work, you can't be effective." That's an Angelos the public doesn't know.

When well-meaning advisers on the sidewalk were telling him he ought to consider a change in managers and bring back Davey Johnson, he replied, "I would if he could pitch." The Orioles' troubles, an aging team losing both foot and arm speed, were compounded by losing three starting pitchers to injuries. As for present manager Ray Miller, Angelos remains a believer in his ability.

"I'm confident he will get the maximum out of the talent," Angelos said. "He has integrity, and the players know that. He will listen to a lot of viewpoints and make his own decision. I measure him as a solid man, a good handler of personnel. I believe he'll be effective when he has a team that hasn't been decimated by injuries." He won't even mildly suggest the players he invested in with lavish contracts have let him down, realizing that in professional sports you don't always get what you've paid for in on-field performance.

"Learning how to lose hasn't been easy," he says. "It's a fundamental fact of baseball life that you're lucky to win six out of 10. You're almost assured of losing near 40 percent of your games. I guess some people think I'm an irascible SOB, but I have never backed away from my beliefs."

Angelos absolutely exemplifies what his former law professor, Francis Valle, said about him when he emerged as the new owner of the Orioles. "He's smart, he's tough and won't back down," was the assessment Valle offered. "A lot of lawyers could have done what he's done in taking on major lawsuits, but they didn't have the courage to try."

In case you haven't been paying attention, Angelos doesn't bow to convention or staid protocol, preferring to chart his own course and, most of the time, working and thriving on an 8 a.m.-to-8 p.m. schedule in his law office and staying in touch with the baseball operation. "Ownership does have its prerogatives," he says and there's no doubt he fulfills them.

He entered the baseball industry as a neophyte, drawn by his financial ability to see his city had a hometown guardian of its most historic franchise, a team that had been known and revered as the Baltimore Orioles for more than a century. The cost for fulfilling the objective of owning them came to $173 million, a then record price for a professional team.

Neither Angelos nor any of his associates has taken profit from the operation. "Not one nickel," he says. His enjoyment is derived from the challenge of the competition and the gnawing pursuit of a world championship.

"The reward, in a sense, comes from seeing how the city and entire state becomes involved with the wins and losses," he says. "It's enjoyable to me to realize thousands of people you never knew or got to meet are tied to a team with one of the great names in sports, the Orioles. My compensation is witnessing the fans' approval, of when they display pure excitement and exhilaration the young, the old, the in-between."

In addition to a baseball team, he has a string of thoroughbred horses that race in Maryland. Any correlation between the two sports? It's as if he has been pondering that same question. "An identical attitude prevails in both places. By that I mean, an owner is supposed to go to the sale, buy the horses, pay the trainer, take care of any other necessary expenses incurred, be responsible for all the feed and medical bills and then disappear into thin air with absolutely no further participation. A baseball owner is supposed to do that, too. I disagree. That's not my way. Never has. Never will be."

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