O's season ends with wild pitch for Ehrlich

September 27, 2005|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In a fitting climax to their shameful 2005 season, in which even the ballplayers can't wait to blow town, the Orioles and Peter Angelos are now laying it on heavy for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. After yesterday's full-page ad in The Sun, thanking Ehrlich for his great support, tonight they're letting the governor of Maryland hang out at Oriole Park with his life's true heroes, the schoolyard jocks.

What fun! According to Orioles' spokesman Bill Stetka, the ballclub will hold a private reception for Ehrlich and a bunch of his pals. Then the governor will put on an Orioles beanie, take batting practice, and throw out the first pitch. If Martin O'Malley was this lucky, maybe the Ravens would let the mayor block punts for a while. Maybe Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan could hang out with the Washington Nationals.

Oops. Washington: bad subject. The Ehrlich tribute is Angelos' way of thanking the governor for his help during this glorious 70-and-85 season, in which the ballclub has proudly built an all-but-insurmountable 5 1/2 -game lead over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Thanks, Bobby, for helping to keep us out of last place. But, hey, I kid the governor - everybody knows that. I don't blame him for the Orioles' sad-sack season.

But I blame Angelos for some unfortunate timing here, and some transparent politicking in the name of his beloved baseball team on the day that happens to fall before O'Malley announces he's running for governor and Duncan prepares his own entrance into the race against Ehrlich.

And I know that Angelos is a man who doesn't need more criticism than he's already getting. Have you listened to the radio talk shows as this sorry season draws to a close? They're throwing beanballs at the Orioles' owner. They're sliding in with spikes high. And this was before Angelos planted a wet one on the governor's kisser. In such an atmosphere, does any politician want Angelos expressing his love for him in public?

"Thank you! Governor Ehrlich," the full-page newspaper ad declares over a large color photo of a smiling Ehrlich in an Orioles warm-up jacket. "The Baltimore Orioles thank Governor Robert L. Ehrlich for his unwavering support of the Orioles during successful negotiations with Major League Baseball to help ensure the long-term financial viability of baseball in Baltimore.

"By stepping up to the plate on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore and the residents of Maryland, Governor Ehrlich secured Baltimore's economic interest in the franchise and enabled the Orioles to continue to serve the region's baseball fans."

Now, understand something: I think Angelos was right when he stood in the way of Washington baseball. I think he was right when he said a D.C. franchise would hurt the Orioles. I also think it's become a kind of collective municipal twitch to blame Angelos anytime anything goes wrong with his club, and to deny him the full credit for rescuing the Orioles from out-of-town ownership in the nervous years after the Colts left town and Edward Bennett Williams issued his threats to move the Orioles and then Eli Jacobs, looking to bail out of personal financial troubles, was ready to sell to the highest bidder. Angelos was there for Baltimore. Applause, applause.

But, in the tribute to Ehrlich - in matters of timing and political transparency - this isn't fooling anybody. It's an attempt to throw some of the aura of Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora around a governor who stood by Angelos - months ago - as he extracted a terrific financial deal out of Major League Baseball. (Too bad Ehrlich didn't stand so tall when GM was pulling out of Broening Highway, or the legislature was trying to reach compromise on health care.)

And, simultaneously, it's a chance to stick the needle into Mayor O'Malley, who publicly expressed ambivalence about a Washington club. As mayor of Baltimore, O'Malley was wrong about the impact on the Orioles; as a guy who wants to be governor of the entire state, though, he was thinking about all those voters in Montgomery and Prince George's counties who are furious with Angelos for trying to block baseball down there and might well take note of his tribute to Ehrlich.

Yesterday, O'Malley's people had no response to the Angelos-Ehrlich tribute. Duncan spokesman David Weaver said he'd heard about it, and dryly remarked, "Yes, he single-handedly saved Western democracy, didn't he?"

Not exactly. Ehrlich stood by Angelos because, as governor of this state, he understands the financial impact of baseball. He also knows that Angelos is a man with deep pockets during political campaigns. He is, by tradition and by instinct, a Democrat, but such things are sometimes subject to change.

Angelos is also a man of intense loyalty. He believes Ehrlich stood by him in a difficult hour, and wants to say thanks - months after the fact. In the hour that a gubernatorial campaign kicks into gear, such a gesture carries all kinds of extra baggage. It's a political embrace disguised as a chummy schoolyard high-five. It's an attempt to wrap the innocent good-guy aura of a beloved baseball team around a governor running for re-election.

After the ballpark Ehrlich tribute tomorrow, the Orioles will play the Yankees. The way this season's going, they'll probably get no hits. Which is not unlike the Ehrlich administration.

michael.olesker@baltsun.com

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