Don't tell Angelos what to do*

*because he'll just do the opposite

September 23, 2006|By JOHN EISENBERG

The "Free the Birds" rally was a hoot. The organizers and participants should be proud of the commotion they stirred up. They made national news and goaded Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos into a name-calling fit.

But as they chanted "sell the team" from the upper deck Thursday, hopefully they realized they were only making their fantasy less likely to occur.

Take it from someone who has spent years condemning various decisions Angelos has made, often inciting his ire: In this odd calculus, criticisms and suggestions tend to produce the opposite of their intended effect.

If that sounds like something out of a physics class, well, let's call it the Angelos Postulate.

When you call on him to, say, offer pitching ace Mike Mussina enough money to keep him from bolting, you stamp Mussina's exit papers. (Six years and 91 Mussina wins later, with the Orioles still searching for another No. 1 starter, we can pronounce that move a Grade A disaster.)

When you suggest that the opinions of a peerless team-builder such as Pat Gillick should be honored instead of overruled, you hasten another regime change.

Free the Birds? You just guaranteed that Angelos' stewardship of the once-proud franchise would extend to 2007 and beyond.

Like a lot of people, he doesn't like being told what to do, especially by a newspaper wretch or a radio talker. He just digs in deeper, determined to prevail.

His tenacity is admirable, but it wouldn't hurt for him to listen now and then. The other side occasionally makes valid points.

Angelos certainly made one in his response to Thursday's protest. In interviews with The Sun and the Associated Press, he noted he had kept ticket prices down compared with those in New York and Boston, cutting into revenues and making it hard to match payrolls with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Having wailed about several ticket price hikes, I had to give him props for offering a perspective that had gotten lost in the angst over a ninth straight losing season.

But of course, economics alone don't explain the Orioles' plight, and it's not clear Angelos grasps some of the subtler aspects of the complex problem.

For instance, while it obviously hurts that the Orioles can't seem to land major free agents, it hurts just as much that they're unwilling to pay the bonuses necessary to land the best prospects in the Dominican Republic, or that they're never a factor in the bidding for Japanese talent.

Their idea of a risk is adding a vesting year to Jeff Conine's contract, but they should be gambling on more creative ways to raise their organizational talent level.

And while it obviously hurts that the Yankees and Red Sox have higher payrolls, executive vice president Mike Flanagan acknowledged Thursday, when asked about the success of the low-budget Twins and Athletics, that "we could do a better job of picking players."

Indeed, it is ludicrous to think this team, on its way to 90 losses, is just a couple of players away from contending, and that an infusion of money from the nascent Mid-Atlantic Sports Network will get it there.

The bullpen needs to be rebuilt from scratch other than closer Chris Ray. The bench also needs an overhaul. Throw in upgrades at first base, left field and the starting rotation, and you're adding as many as 10 new players.

Yet the minor league system is virtually bereft of young talent ready to help now.

As exciting as it has been to watch Nick Markakis, Adam Loewen, Brandon Fahey and Ray develop, the next generation of potential difference-makers (infielder Billy Rowell, outfielder Nelson Reimold and pitchers Brandon Erbe and Garrett Olson) is in the lower minors, several years away.

This isn't a quick fix. It's a long, complicated fix, made harder by the fact that Angelos truly believes he isn't involved in baseball operations, but, in fact, wields many opinions.

The sound emanating from the upper deck Thursday was the sound of a public that no longer trusts him to get the job done, and why should it?

To stabilize his nightmarish bullpen, he needs to give $3 million to several relief pitchers who deserve no more than $2.5 million. He hates doing that.

To sign Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee, he needs to orchestrate a preemptive strike. The deliberate Orioles don't move that way.

To improve the team's long-range prospects, he needs to multiply his investment in international scouting, a potential growth area in which the Orioles have lagged behind.

To give fans any reason to believe again in his downtrodden organization, he needs to demonstrate he is listening to everyone's ideas, even those of his critics and the protesters whose frustrations he should understand.

With all due respect, as the standings indicate, he could use the help.

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