Time on Angelos' side like never before for sale of Orioles

August 17, 2005|By John Eisenberg

AFTER CREATING a fair amount of noise early in 2005, the Orioles find themselves back where they always seem to be in August - out of the playoff hunt and starting to focus on next season and beyond.

The usual complement of important issues (sigh) must be decided in the coming months. Will Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan be back to run the baseball operation? Will Sam Perlozzo return as manager? Will the team lure a No. 1 starter?

But one issue, a new one, looms higher, rendering all others irrelevant by comparison: Will Peter Angelos sell the team?

He unfailingly denies it, but the rumor is circulating like never before in such disparate places as Congress, ESPN and Baltimore's weightiest boardrooms. The phones fairly flew yesterday after Angelos and Cal Ripken Jr., viewed by many as a potential buyer/savior, were seen dining together Monday night. Ripken spokesman John Maroon dismissed all speculation yesterday, saying they share a friendly dinner every month.

Maybe the rumors are a load of hooey. Maybe Angelos just isn't as opposed to selling as he was before. Maybe he is giving the idea real thought, despite his public stance.

Whatever, the rumors are going to endure because, let's face it, this is the perfect time for him to sell.

Angelos probably wouldn't agree, as it surely would be hard for him to reap the maximum price after seven straight losing seasons, with No. 8 in sight. Perfect timing? Not in that sense. Nor in the sense of Angelos getting to go out on top. No one would accuse him of that.

But other factors suggest the timing for a sale is just right.

Angelos has owned the team for a dozen years, about as long as the average owner keeps a team these days. His sons don't seem to want the baton. And while the Nationals' arrival in Washington has carved a chunk out of his fan base, complicating matters, Angelos was still able to score a monumental civic victory by negotiating a stunningly one-sided settlement with Major League Baseball, assuring the Orioles of a prosperous financial future.

That settlement will go down as Angelos' most positive contribution to the Baltimore baseball story, and it's a huge one that figures to reverberate for years. He deserves credit for driving such a relentlessly hard bargain. (And assuring himself of a hefty profit whenever he sells.) It's doubtful anyone else could have brought home such a deal.

But of course, that success has no chance of offsetting the darker specter of on-field failure that has become the Orioles' trademark under Angelos. Although it's not entirely his fault, the team has become a consistent loser on his watch, effectively ruining his reputation among a majority of the city's sports public. That can't be fun.

As a proud Baltimorean, he surely loathes the idea that many here would cheer the news that he had decided to sell. But that would be the reaction. And you can't call it unfair. If seven (going on eight) straight losing seasons has proved anything, it's that whatever ails the Orioles can't be fixed as long as Angelos is in charge.

He just isn't patient enough, leading to constant change, which becomes self-defeating. And he can't leave his baseball decision-makers alone to make the big personnel calls they were hired to make.

How do we judge Beattie and Flanagan? It's the same old story. Just like you couldn't really judge Syd Thrift, Frank Wren, Pat Gillick and Roland Hemond, you can't really judge the current GMs because of Angelos' involvement at key moments.

Yes, Beattie and Flanagan whiffed on a managerial hire, wound up with nothing to show for dealing Sidney Ponson and Jeff Conine, and signed three National League relievers who failed. But they did sign Miguel Tejada, find Bruce Chen and David Newhan on the scrap heap, and reportedly were ready to trade for A.J. Burnett, a key fix for the team's No. 1 need. Angelos didn't like the deal.

Remember the nixed Gillick deals involving Bobby Bonilla and David Wells? That was nine years ago. How many times do we have to go through this before it becomes clear the template just isn't going to work?

The Orioles need another front-office regime change like they need another season from Sammy Sosa. But unless Angelos sells, there might well be another regime next year, which could mean yet another scouting director and yet another farm director (new ones just started this year) and the same, old promises leading to the same, old problems.

There is such a thing as a franchise repeating the same mistakes until it buries itself, and the Orioles are getting there.

Perfect timing, indeed.

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