Pride comes before sale: Angelos isn't ready

December 16, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Peter Angelos might someday sell his majority share of the Orioles to a new ownership group that includes soon-to-be Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, but not until he's good and ready.

If he were to put the franchise up for bid, several prominent Baltimoreans would line up - or join together - to make an offer, but a group of motivated and capable buyers only makes for interesting speculation. It takes a motivated seller to make a deal, and Angelos has given no indication that he's ready to cash out of a struggling team that might soon turn into a cash cow.

He's just not made that way.

Angelos is a proud guy who's reached phenomenal heights as a class-action attorney, and he didn't get to be one of the most successful and powerful lawyers in the country by standing down from a challenge. There were people who told him he was nuts to take on Big Asbestos, but he won billions for victims of asbestos-related illnesses, and didn't do too badly for himself in the process.

There also were people who wondered what he was thinking when he bought the Orioles and almost immediately stood against his fellow major league owners in the disastrous 1994 labor war with the players union. Time would demonstrate that he was right to refuse to use replacement players, and Angelos eventually would play a major role in negotiations that helped reverse baseball's economic decline.

Now, he's got a team that has spent almost an entire decade in fourth place and a frustrated fan following that would welcome an ownership transfer. Those might seem like two good reasons to call Help-U-Sell, but are actually the same two reasons Angelos figures to hunker down and try to work his way out of this competitive quagmire.

Think about it. Does anyone seriously believe that he would walk away from the Orioles in the middle of the current rebuilding effort - with his popularity in Baltimore at an all-time low - and let Baltimore's most popular sports figure ride in on a white horse and save the helpless women and children?

Not when the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network is still in its infancy and the revenues it is expected to produce could dramatically enhance both the value of the team and the ability of the front office to compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for elite talent.

Angelos still has a chance to come out of this a hero, as unlikely as that might seem. There was a time when Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was one of the most reviled men in baseball, but all it took was a world title on the South Side for local fans to forgive and forget.

If Angelos makes good on his promise to use the growing MASN revenues to build a playoff contender, he almost certainly would reap an image dividend that would quiet the clamor for new ownership, which would make it easier for him to exit gracefully when the value of the franchise is in full bloom.

Though Angelos strongly denied a report that he was discussing a gradual sale of the franchise to Ripken that might mirror Steve Bisciotti's two-step purchase of the Ravens, that scenario is neither illogical nor impossible. It's just not imminent.

Minority owner Steve Geppi has made it clear that he would like to buy the team when Angelos decides to sell it, and Ripken has said he would like to be part of any ownership group that acquires the franchise.

"Absolutely," Geppi said yesterday. "We've talked about it. Everybody knows he [Ripken] is interested. Everybody knows I'm interested. So you can put two and two together, but it's not on his [Angelos'] radar right now."

Geppi is one of the minority owners who has a contractual right of first refusal if Angelos decides to sell the club. He has inquired about the availability of the Orioles and he assumes that Ripken has, too, but said that he knows of no negotiations toward an actual sale.

"It's always been a dream of mine to be an owner of the Orioles," Geppi said. "I owe thanks to Peter that I've been able to fulfill that dream on a smaller level. If I ever got the chance [to buy a majority interest in the franchise], I would jump at it, but if I don't, I'll always appreciate that he gave me a chance."

No doubt, Geppi would face stiff competition from some prominent local businessmen. Legg Mason's star money manager Bill Miller said through a spokesman yesterday that if Angelos ever wanted to sell the franchise, he would be interested "at the right price." He added that he would welcome Ripken as a partner. Legg Mason chairman and CEO Raymond A. "Chip" Mason, whose name also has come up in sale speculation, declined to comment. Neither would say whether any discussions have taken place.

Angelos, meanwhile, summed up the controversy in five words yesterday:

"I'm not selling the team," he told a Sun reporter.

We probably should take him at his word. The man never quit anything in his life.

He's just not made that way.

Sun reporters Jeff Zrebiec and Laura Smitherman contributed to this article.

The Peter Schmuck Show airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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