This time, Angelos' allegiance is clear

Renegade in '94, lawyer now owners' front man

what's behind the change?


August 29, 2002|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Last time the owners and players of Major League Baseball met on the field of battle, it wasn't clear to some hard-liners which side Orioles owner Peter Angelos was on.

He alone among the 28 team owners refused to sign replacement players that year, 1994. A rookie owner, he even had the audacity to suggest other teams follow his lead and disclose summaries of their finances to build sympathy for their cause.

That was then. This is now: The one-time outsider now has a seat at the table, literally. He is one of two team owners on baseball's five-man bargaining committee, where he has aligned himself with the "hawks" pushing forcefully for controls on salaries.

His comment, at an Aug. 16 news conference, about "an unbelievable increase in payrolls," was cited by the union the next day in a scathing memo to its members in which it accused the owners of mounting a "wholesale attack on the salary structure."

Sources say the once-cordial relationship between Angelos and players union executive director Donald Fehr has turned icy. "Peter is taking positions that he didn't take in the past. He is taking his party's line now instead of trying to be a bridge," said one source familiar with the players' view of the negotiations.

Theories about his change of heart range from the conspiratorial - that he is ingratiating himself with commissioner Bud Selig to keep a rival team out of Washington - to the complimentary. Perhaps baseball has simply discovered it has a skilled labor attorney among its owners, someone with credibility among the players.

"I think that Bud Selig is somebody who is always willing to take a convert as an ally and he recognizes that Angelos has a lot of experience with labor negotiations," said Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College and author of Baseball and Billions: a probing look inside the big business of our national pastime.

Alone among the titans of baseball, Angelos earned his living - and fortune - representing workers. He represented them in negotiations and lawsuits, eventually mounting a successful class-action suit against asbestos makers that paid him hundreds of millions of dollars in fees, enough to buy the Orioles in 1993.

Jerry Menapace, a retired secretary-treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, headed a Baltimore-based local of the union in 1966 when it picked Angelos as its attorney. The two remain friends, and Menapace said Angelos told him he agreed to serve on the baseball committee in hopes of avoiding a repeat of the disastrous strike of 1994-1995.

"He thought he could play a role and bring about an agreement," Menapace said. "If I know Peter, he will do everything he can to get a settlement. He's an amazing guy."

Although Angelos has been accused of intransigence in several high-profile matters - such as his disputes with the state over the Orioles' lease and his share of the tobacco settlement - Menapace remembers him as creative and flexible in negotiations.

"He used to tell me, `Jerry, never walk away from the table with the other guy pissed off. You will have to deal with him the next time and the next time,' " Menapace said.

An attorney with experience on the other side of the table from Angelos agrees. Earle K. Shawe of Shawe & Rosenthal in Baltimore faced off against the team owner several times over the decades and respects his skills.

"He was always tough and aggressive but also pragmatic about finding solutions in difficult situations. He understands the process of collective bargaining and the dynamic," Shawe said. "I believe that if he and Don Fehr were able to closet themselves in a room, they could structure a settlement."

Greg Bouris, director of communications for the Major League Baseball Players Association, declined to comment on Angelos' role. "Our bargainers are prepared to bargain with whomever Major League Baseball decides to put on their team," he said.

Angelos did not respond to requests for comment, although he has said in recent interviews that his position in 1994 was misunderstood. He didn't oppose his fellow owners' objectives in reforming baseball's salary structure; he just disagreed philosophically with hiring replacements. And he didn't want to break Cal Ripken's consecutive-games streak by fielding a fill-in shortstop.

When he was named to the committee last April, Angelos, in a written statement, said: "I welcome the opportunity to serve the game at this pivotal juncture. I am hopeful that my experience as an attorney and as a club owner will help contribute to a successful outcome at the bargaining table."

The committee consists of Bob DuPuy, president of Major League Baseball; Rob Manfred, MLB's executive vice president; outside legal counsel Howard Ganz; and Andy MacPhail, president of the Chicago Cubs, a team owned by the Tribune Co., which also owns this newspaper.

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