Payments could place ball on tee for Angelos

September 24, 2004|By Laura Vecsey

IF MAJOR LEAGUE Baseball agrees to pay Peter Angelos millions to make up for losses the Orioles will suffer upon the relocation of the Expos to Washington, that's a win-win for Angelos.

But it's not a win-win the way it first appears.

With the promise of a cash bailout, the master litigator, Angelos, may find he has extracted exactly the kind of evidence it would take to bring a lawsuit against baseball. If they fork over money, Bud Selig and Co. all but admit they are inflicting harm on the Orioles by putting the Expos 35 miles to the south.

In some lines of work, it's called "hush money."

What no one likes about Angelos is that "hush" isn't a volume at which he speaks.

Instead, Angelos chooses to carry a big stick - which is a metaphor for well-constructed legal briefs outlining the damages he would face as owner of the Orioles, which would do business with another major league franchise in their back yard.

Call Angelos a NIMBY if you want. Call him anything you want. But there's a reason he doesn't put "Baltimore" on the front of the Orioles' road jerseys. Baltimore is the Orioles' home, but it's not a quaint world anymore in professional sports.

Territory is where it's at, which is why when you sit in your Williamsburg, Va., hotel room on a weekend jaunt away from Towson, you can catch Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora doing that flappin' handshake.

From York County, Pa., down past the Potomac toward the Outer Banks, the Orioles have had free rein. Until now.

Yes, Angelos has meddled and therefore mismanaged his precious asset. For that, he deserves criticism and blame. Pat Gillick should have never left. Nor Davey Johnson. Nor Frank Wren. On it goes.

The Orioles are still trying to climb out from under their non-competitive rock, which only partly explains the misery of a franchise that has not produced its own "franchise player" since Cal Ripken.

The talk is the Orioles' scouting department will undergo an overhaul this winter, now that reconstruction of the minor league system has begun. Lee Mazzilli has not exactly earned the confidence of anyone and where the Orioles find pitching to hang with Boston and New York remains a mystery.

But as difficult as this task seems, separate the mismanagement of the Orioles over the past 12 years with Angelos' right to operate the business as it was designated, via the franchise's territorial reach into D.C. and beyond.

There will be damage to the Orioles if that territory is compromised, which is not what the owner of a team attempting to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox wants to deliberate.

That the Yankees and Red Sox are bigger problems for Angelos and the Orioles than the D.C. Expos isn't the point, either.

Whether it's 13 percent or 33 percent or somewhere in between that Camden Yards attendance draws from the D.C./Virginia area, it makes little difference. The fact is, there will be some impact, particularly with broadcasting rights. Television and radio and merchandise marketing are primary sources of income.

Ask the Yankees why they have the biggest payroll in baseball. It's the cable revenues, stupid.

Maybe baseball's owners should have pressed harder to find a solution in northern New Jersey. No owner in his right mind would be talking anonymously about compensating George Steinbrenner for moving the Expos to the Meadowlands, which is not as far from Yankee Stadium as D.C. is from Camden Yards.

That New Jersey Expos scenario is not as far-fetched as it seems. It's not a pie-in-the-sky diversion drummed up just to prove a point. Negotiations to move the Expos to northern New Jersey were the idea of Stan Kasten.

The former general manager of the Atlanta Braves was, up until the All-Star break, covertly attempting to mediate discussions that would put the Expos in the one market where no one could argue they would cause irreparable harm.

Yankees, Mets, Expos.

Just like the old days of Yankees, Giants, Dodgers.

New York can handle it. New York probably needs it. New York/New Jersey would have been baseball's answer to two questions: where to put the Expos and how to rein in the Yankees.

If you rein in the Yankees, it effectively puts a drag on payrolls for all major league clubs. The Red Sox could take a chill. The Mets would stop thinking they have to imitate every move the Yankees make. The trickle-down effect of competitive balance would result from such a move.

It would help the Orioles compete. It would help everyone compete.

Instead, the Orioles are being asked to shoulder most of the responsibility of bailing out the Expos. That it is a boon to D.C., where politicians promised more than $440 million in taxpayer funds - before they got voted out of office - is nice for D.C.

It's probably nice for baseball fans, except the few brave enough to go to RFK Stadium the next three seasons. Has anyone been to that dump lately? That baseball in D.C. is not nice for the Orioles, to the tune of millions of dollars in hush money, probably is a nice place for Angelos to commence a legal challenge.

If they are going to pay him for his cooperation, they're basically admitting he's right. It's a bad deal for the Orioles.

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