Tough calls await Angelos

September 29, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

As the Orioles near the end of the most tumultuous season in their storied history, club major- ity owner Peter G. Angelos said he is looking to the future while contemplating how a promising season unraveled so completely.

"It was very disappointing obviously and, in many senses a calamity of problems that were totally unexpected," Angelos said yesterday while publicly assessing the season for the first time.

Angelos declined to call 2005 - which included 62 days in first place, a steroids controversy involving star first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, the drunken-driving charges against projected team ace Sidney Ponson and the firing of manager Lee Mazzilli - the franchise's worst season.

But, "for bordering on the bizarre, this one takes the cake," he said.

The Orioles will finish below .500 for the eighth consecutive season and in fourth place in the American League East for the seventh time in eight years. Consequently, the season's attendance - estimated at about 2.6 million - will be the second-lowest full-season mark in Camden Yards history and roughly 125,000 fans behind 2004.

"I thought that before the second half we would easily exceed last year," Angelos said. "But with the team's problems, everyone knows the fans became very disinterested, and I completely understand that."

Now, he is faced with attempting to make this club a contender in 2006 amid myriad difficult decisions, including a potential change of on- and off-field management. The contracts of executive vice president Jim Beattie and vice president Mike Flanagan expire at season's end. Manager Sam Perlozzo was hired on an interim basis in August, when Mazzilli was fired.

Angelos said he would address the management issues during meetings starting next week, after Sunday's season-ender in Tampa Bay, but he declined further comment.

Despite the team's poor September performance, several industry sources believe Angelos is leaning toward bringing Perlozzo back. One source said a decision on Beattie's and Flanagan's fate, however, has not been made. A new GM likely would want to hire his own manager, meaning a complete overhaul is possible.

One thing is certain, however: Angelos, 76, will be back at the team's helm in 2006. Rumors have circulated that he is considering selling the team to a group of Baltimore-based investors. But Angelos, who purchased the club for $173 million in 1993, said he has no plans to give up his hometown team.

"The answer is, `No,' " Angelos said. "It is not for sale."

Forbes magazine estimated this year that the club was worth $341 million, which should rise when a regional cable TV network is fully developed. For now, however, the Orioles' revenue stream and payroll lags far behind their division rivals - the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

When asked if the Orioles have the financial capabilities to play with the big boys, Angelos said, "We have the means if Peter Angelos is willing to make up the deficit at the end of the season."

Although the leaguewide payroll disparity is a constant frustration for Angelos, he said yesterday he expects the Orioles to be competitive next year despite the obvious on-field deficiencies.

"Our goal now, over the end of the season and into April 2006, is to do everything we can do ... to see that this team begins the 2006 season in a first-rate competitive position," he said. "That may mean [adding] a starting pitcher, maybe a catcher, a left fielder and a left-handed setup man."

The Orioles expected to make similar improvements last winter, but instead signed two relievers, a utility infielder and traded for slugger Sammy Sosa, who was injured and ineffective, and eventually was sent home this month.

Angelos said he "pushed for" the trade of Sosa, who hit 35 homers for the Chicago Cubs in 2004, but had just 14 homers and a .221 batting average as an Oriole. That was a mistake, he admits, but most of the other problems in this nightmarish season - including injuries and Palmeiro's fall from grace - were unforeseen.

Even so, the Orioles' prospects for next season appear dismal, with gaping holes in the outfield, at first base, in the rotation and potentially at the back end of the bullpen. Still, Angelos believes the 2006 summer will be sunnier in Baltimore.

"We are coming back strong next year," he said. "I know you have heard that tune before, but this time it will literally come true."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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