O's owners laughable, if not funny

This Just In...

July 31, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

I JUST HAD to laugh - it's recommended by nine out of 10 doctors - at the Orioles wanting the right to sell the name of Oriole Park, or at least wanting millions of dollars in compensation from the state for not selling the name, or whatever. At this point, the Orioles asking for anything further from Maryland taxpayers - naming rights, more sky boxes, more rent credits, a $15 million interest-free loan, a new scoreboard - brings new meaning to the word "gall." And "gall" makes me think of "bladder," and "gall bladder" makes me think of "bile." And "bile" makes me sick.

So you see how upsetting this can get. That's why I just laugh.

I think it shows maturity. Why give myself agita? Why reach for Zantac?

We live in a ridiculous world, ladies and gentlemen. Have you noticed? Welfare reform has reached the public housing projects, but not corporate America. We subsidize millionaires. It makes me think of the lead character in "Bread and Chocolate," the 1973 Franco Brusati film about a poor Italian expatriate who tries cheerfully to fit into affluent society in Switzerland while constantly being degraded. At one point, he agrees to give his hard-earned savings to a millionaire, who promises to invest wisely. The millionaire turns out to be a stock swindler who, facing prison, commits suicide. Penniless again, the Italian must return home. "What do I tell my family?" he wonders at his absurd circumstance. "That I gave my money to a millionaire?"

Yeah, well. There's a lot of that around here.

The majority owner of the Orioles is a gazillionaire, and all the minority owners - Tom Clancy and the rest - have a few bucks stashed away, too. Their team is the third-highest revenue producer in Major League Baseball.

And yet, such a sweet deal they get from the state for agreeing to have their Orioles play 81 games inside the wonderful baseball theme park created with millions of dollars in state financing. The Orioles have very easy terms in Oriole Park. And there's little the state or city has not done for the franchise. The state even gives it 73,000 square feet of free office space in the B&O Warehouse and, down below, our city cops continue to make silly and embarrassing scalping arrests to protect the investment of the Orioles' owners.

The Orioles draw big crowds - not because of the diminishing talent on the field but because of the nostalgic aesthetics of Camden Yards. The current owners of the Orioles had nothing to do with the ingenious design of Oriole Park, yet they reap its enduring benefits. A steady tourist trade, and baseball-hungry fans from Washington and Northern Virginia, bolster the attendance figures. Had the state unwisely decided a decade ago to finance an innocuous Beltway stadium, the attendance figures certainly would have fallen off by now. And the franchise would not be worth the hundreds of millions that it is.

Yeah, the people in the owner's box have a sweet deal.

And yet, here they come demanding a better one.

They've hired attorney David Kendall. Kendall ought to be good at this. As President Clinton's personal attorney, he's had plenty of practice defending the indefensible.

Dutch against the grain

Political science professors at Maryland colleges should be grateful to Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger for having provided the makings of a fascinating case study for the fall semester. Breaking the traditional mindset of Baltimore County planners, Ruppersberger decided to expand the detention center in Towson instead of dumping a new county jail in Dundalk or Essex. And that's while trying to bring upscale development to those southeastern communities, long considered a dumping ground for the county's social problems. The response? Complaints, accusations and a referendum campaign that would make a lesser man run for the cover of a corporate job in Hunt Valley. It's the stuff of a term paper, if not a master's thesis. Watch that space.

Enough wealth to share

Here's another class project for the fall: Now that Johns Hopkins has publicly gloated about having raised $1.52 billion in its six-year fund-raising drive, maybe its boards of directors could do something about a solid living wage and decent benefits for all those janitors, security guards and parking lot attendants in the university's and hospital's growing empire of buildings and systems.

Small, touching civility

It was the simplest of gestures - a hand reaching for a hat and bringing the hat to the chest - but everyone in the limousine noticed and felt good about it.

This happened a few weeks ago, on the teary and rainy day when the relatives and many friends of Baltimore Circuit Judge Gary Strausberg gathered for his funeral at Sol Levinson & Bros. on Reisterstown Road. Strausberg was a brilliant man, a student of the law and a master of six languages, who was diagnosed with lymphoma in January. He died July 8. He was 53.

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