Taking a look inside Orioles' inner sanctum

Behind scenes, Smouse is playing big role for Angelos, whose sons slip to background

February 09, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

When Frank Wren left office as Orioles general manager in 1999, he was openly critical of Peter Angelos and his sons, saying they interfered with the baseball decisions - hindering, not helping, the product on the field.

More than three years later, Angelos knows that perception still remains throughout the baseball industry. Last fall, when the Orioles were conducting their latest general manager search, some of the candidates expressed those concerns.

Upon closer inspection, the Orioles run much differently these days than the average fan, and perhaps even the average baseball executive, seems to understand.

With a new GM tandem of Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, Angelos still has final say, but there is no buffer between them. The younger son, Louis, works exclusively for Angelos' law firm. And while the older son, John, carries a title as Orioles executive vice president, he plays a limited role and has seldom been seen at the warehouse during the past two years, insiders say.

After playing more prominent roles during Wren's tenure, John and Louis have moved into the background, and Angelos remains so busy running the law firm, he devotes only a portion of his time to the Orioles.

"Rather than criticize me for being too involved, I should be criticized for not being involved enough," Angelos said. "I'm over here practicing law 10 hours a day. I'm not looking over the shoulders of Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie, and I never have with the others."

If anything should happen to Angelos, his sons would inherit the Orioles, but insinuations that they spend time checking up on other club officials for their father still baffle him.

"Are they interested in the team? Of course, they are," Angelos said. "But they aren't supervising or observing or noting the performance of the people who are running the club. That isn't true at all. They don't want to do that, and nor do I want them to do that. We trust the professionals to do their jobs."

So who works inside Angelos' inner circle these days?

Meet Russell Smouse.

As the team's general counsel, Smouse worked side by side with Angelos during the latest GM search, and it was a two-man operation. With the franchise facing one of its most crucial decisions in years, Angelos and Smouse found the candidates and conducted the interviews before ultimately picking both Beattie and Flanagan to run the baseball operations department.

Smouse, a successful Maryland attorney, works primarily for Angelos' law firm.

But at this time of year, he also captains the team handling the Orioles' salary arbitration process.

The three Orioles with arbitration cases currently pending - Sidney Ponson, Melvin Mora and Jerry Hairston - must beware: Since Smouse took over the lead role for the Orioles in arbitration, the club is 5-0 in cases that have gone to a hearing.

"He's a first-rate attorney," Angelos said of Smouse.

Foss retains presence

With Smouse working the club's legal assignments, Angelos still has Joe Foss running the Orioles' day-to-day operations. Foss' role might look somewhat diminished these days because he worked closely with Angelos in the GM searches that produced Pat Gillick in 1995 and Wren in 1998, but hasn't been used in that capacity since.

Yet when Major League Baseball holds its quarterly owners meetings, Foss is still the one who accompanies Angelos. Foss works with Orioles chief financial officer Robert Ames to produce financial forecasts for the club, looking at salary costs, ticket sales, concessions, television and radio revenues, etc.

Foss negotiated the Orioles' latest two-year extension with the city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for their spring training site and their new working agreement with Triple-A Ottawa.

"My job is unchanged from what it had been," Foss said. "I still report directly to Peter."

When it comes to baseball decisions, Angelos is showing great trust so far in Beattie and Flanagan, who rely heavily on director of baseball administration Ed Kenney, scouting director Tony DeMacio, farm director Doc Rodgers and recently hired consultant Dave Ritterpusch.

"We cannot have enough information," Flanagan said. "There might be 15 or 20 people involved in any decision."

If anyone questioned how much autonomy Angelos would give Beattie and Flanagan, it showed during the recent negotiations with free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez. The Orioles offered Rodriguez a three-year, $21 million contract with incentives that would have brought the total closer to $30 million, but Rodriguez eventually signed a one-year, $10.1 million contract with the Florida Marlins.

After the Orioles missed out on free-agent sluggers Cliff Floyd and Hideki Matsui, insiders say Angelos was willing to offer Rodriguez more than the $21 million guaranteed. But Beattie and Flanagan drew the line, figuring that was enough risk considering Rodriguez's history of back problems. Angelos supported their decision.

Beattie-Flanagan raves

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