O's fans no longer buying what Angelos is selling

September 30, 2005|By RICK MAESE

Midnight was within an arm's reach. The bags were packed, and the players cleared out of the Orioles' clubhouse. Outside, even the few fans who stayed until the very end had filed out of the ballpark for the final time.

The team had left. The fan base had left. And what exactly was everyone left with? Certainly not hope.

The three remaining games at Tampa Bay are just formalities. This season is over.

Wait till next year, right? Not exactly.

Much of the optimism was doused this week, and it took only five words.

"It is not for sale," Orioles owner Peter Angelos said of his team in an interview with The Sun. The dollar signs will change too much in the next couple of years for a savvy businessman like Angelos to let go of the team.

For many in Charm City, it's the worst fear realized. Forget a new general manager, a new left-handed pitcher in the bullpen or a new manager. Many fans hoped change would start at the very top. Rumors had swirled the past couple of weeks that a group including Cal Ripken might be putting together an offer.

"The answer is, `No,'" Angelos said.

I've been in town fewer than two months. I have repeatedly told fans I would withhold judgment on Angelos. Put simply, though, I've been blown away by the city's disgust with this team's ownership.

"It appears that there is no future for the franchise at all," one reader e-mailed me. "It's a very sad situation because the `Baltimore Orioles' was once a proud name, which is about to disappear."

Another wrote: "[T]here is only one fix to this ... and that is to boycott him at the turnstiles. The fans in Baltimore do not deserve this as they have been very loyal to the Orioles."

Here's a third: "After years of torture, I try not to care too much since it's `only a game,' but fans know it's more than a game. It's about civic identity and family traditions. The O's are dragging both into the gutter."

It stings even an outsider to hear about the hurt. It's easy to trace it to the top.

The Orioles have become a national joke. The Sporting News, ESPN, The New York Times - they're all having a big laugh at the Orioles' expense.

Check out what William Rhoden, the venerable Times columnist, wrote last week: "While Commissioner Bud Selig is investigating steroids and vitamin B-12, he should also investigate the Baltimore Orioles - for consumer fraud."

Ouch.

There's a certain feel around this organization. It's no longer a team that's suffering through a couple of tough seasons. The Orioles are engulfed by a culture of losing. Justified or not, a collective finger is aimed at Angelos.

The owner won't say this is the worst season the team has experienced. Whether he's being naive or protective, he doesn't really have to say it. But we know it.

Hearts are still tied to every hiccup that comes out of the brick warehouse. Box scores look like train wrecks. Internet message boards have turned into emotional support groups. And the ballpark has been a nightly interment.

Faith has been shaken. We can't pin it solely on the losing or the steroid controversy or Sammy or Sidney. It's the lack of organizational direction. It starts and stops with Angelos.

Since Angelos came on board in 1993, the Orioles have had seven managers and six general managers. Angelos is the one name that threads through the losing.

It's tough to speculate on what changes might loom. Logic would lead you to think that if Sam Perlozzo isn't given the post on a permanent basis next week, the team might wait until after the World Series in early November to unveil a different name - and possibly a new general manager.

It would be a mistake to wait that long. A new general manager would need time to hire his own manager. And time is not a luxury the team can afford.

In 2002, Angelos waited until December to name Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan as general managers. Angelos should have learned then that the free-agent market doesn't stand still while the Orioles study tea leaves.

Player agents and team executives have already begun to map out their offseason strategies. Who exactly is going to answer the phone at the Orioles' warehouse if Scott Boras calls? The team mascot?

Angelos has known since at least early August that he'd have to make these hires. He cannot be slow on the trigger again, not as the Orioles enter an offseason that requires such a sweeping overhaul.

Midnight is within an arm's reach. The 2005 season was tucked in weeks ago. The lights are out now.

Orioles fans deserve to wake up to good news. Many of them just don't know if that's possible with Angelos at the helm.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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