Ravens give Angelos a respite, but not for long

October 11, 2005|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Yesterday morning's talk radio sounded like the end of the world. The Baltimore Ravens lose another football game, and the armies of the faithful make it seem tragic as earthquakes in Pakistan. From his temporarily safe ground, Peter Angelos could lift his head for a few minutes without somebody trying to yank it off. If the talk show types are firing at the Ravens, it means they're leaving Angelos and his Orioles alone for a little while.

Today, they'll be ducking for cover again.

Jim Beattie's been turned loose, after sharing front-office duties with Mike Flanagan for the past few years. In the current climate, this will be perceived as one more sign of uncertainty and indirection on a baseball team that was once the industry model of stability and success.

Angelos says otherwise, so let's give him his platform for a moment. In a telephone call late yesterday, he said the Beattie decision was preordained from the start. As he's always seen it, Flanagan's the front-office future of the Orioles, and Beattie a veteran brought to mentor Flanny and then bow out gracefully.

"Jim was brought in," Angelos said, "specifically to help Mike learn the job, and for Mike to take over in three years. That was the plan from the start. We weren't going to say anything until after the World Series." But Beattie apparently mentioned it to a few folks yesterday morning, and by afternoon the story was all over town.

In any event, the news shouldn't shock anybody, as the Orioles just finished their eighth straight losing season. And, as the baseball playoffs are now with us, minus the Orioles, it's another reminder of the ongoing tremors in the organization as the Orioles now ponder what to do about interim manager Sam Perlozzo, and what to do about the on-field distance between themselves and the Yankees (and Red Sox and Blue Jays), and what to do about public perceptions of a team that goes home early every year.

In such an atmosphere, Angelos has become the favorite whipping boy for local sporting types whenever they aren't obsessing over football. The Ravens were supposed to lift everyone's spirits. Instead, they are losers three times out of four. On the radio talk shows yesterday, everybody was out for blood. Angelos understands. But his perspective isn't a fan's.

"The dreary Ravens," a caller told him yesterday morning, by way of opening a conversation on safe ground. The news about Beattie hadn't yet broken.

"There you go," Angelos said. "See what you just said? People want a Super Bowl team every year, or else they're dismal, dreary, awful and stupid."

So much for safe ground. Angelos' point wasn't about the Ravens, it was about the fickle culture of modern sports. A decade ago, the town was thrilled merely to be back in the pro football business. Five years ago, our collective chests swelled over a Super Bowl win. Today, the loss of a football game in Detroit is declared a municipal embarrassment.

"The Ravens," said Angelos, "have done very well for this city. It's a shame they're having a bad season. But they've served this city well; they project the city's name across the whole country. Now I see Brian Billick getting bashed all over the place. That's outrageous. And I don't even know the guy. Look, they went to a Super Bowl. And now, it's like all the good they've done is being wiped off the slate."

By defending the Ravens, Angelos was naturally making his own case, as well. His Orioles haven't had a winning season since the second Clinton administration, and the franchise hasn't won a World Series since Edward Bennett Williams owned the team and dropped hints that were as subtle as ransom notes about moving the Orioles down to Washington.

A culture of cynicism takes hold with such a history - particularly, in the modern era, with round-the-clock broadcast debates that sound like exchanges of gunfire, with inflated player salaries creating inflated ballpark prices and with the Orioles' second-half collapse this year after two months in first place.

The news about Beattie will inevitably feed into that cynicism. And, while it's understandable that Angelos views professional sports not as a fan but as a businessman, he surely understands fans' lingering frustrations - and how he becomes their target.

His unchanging defense? Baseball's approach to money.

"That's the thing people don't want to think about," he says. "The Yankees, with their $210 million payroll - what does that have to do with Peter Angelos, with the loss of industry and manufacturing in a city like Baltimore, with Boston getting to the playoffs with a $42 average ticket price while ours is $22? We have a $70 million payroll, and part of that's my own money. In order for me to match the revenues of the Yankees and Red Sox, I'd have to draw 5 million people."

This is an impossibility, but also sidesteps other considerations. While it's true that this year's American League playoffs were stocked with big-market teams (New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles), there are seasons when such small-market inspirations as Oakland and Minnesota sneak in. Why not the Orioles?

Last night, the Yankees played the Angels in the deciding game of the first round of the playoffs. Mike Mussina was the Yankees pitcher. When Orioles fans take aim at Angelos, the loss of Mussina's on their bill of complaints. Somebody's bound to bring it up on the radio today. This will please the Ravens, who are eager to change the subject after their embarrassment in Detroit.

michael.olesker@baltsun.com

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