Angelos backing MASN and Nats leaves O's fans scratching heads

Comments are OK from business view, but fans have right to be bewildered

  • David Hernandez picked up his first win of the season against the Nationals, allowing one hit in 5 1/3 innings.
David Hernandez picked up his first win of the season against… (AP photo )
May 23, 2010|By Peter Schmuck

Orioles owner Peter Angelos is an extremely competitive guy, so it was fair to scratch your head when he was quoted Friday saying that the surprising success of the Washington Nationals is a good thing for his struggling team.

Not because it is particularly counterintuitive, mind you, but because the Orioles are playing an interleague series against their regional rival this weekend and that kind of statement gives aid and comfort to cynical fans who believe that he cares more about the bottom line than the top of the standings.

"What's good for the Nationals is good for MASN," Angelos told The Baltimore Sun. "That makes me happy, and that makes [Nationals principal owner Ted Lerner] happy. They are partners in the MASN network. The better they do, the more interest it generates."

Now, there's nothing wrong with that statement from a business standpoint. The Orioles and Nationals co-own the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, though the Orioles own way more of it than the Nats. If the Nationals improve their MASN ratings, it actually benefits the Orioles — in terms of MASN profits — more than the Nats, so Angelos the businessman has every right to be pulling for them to have a good season.

The problem is more one of appearances. Fans of the Orioles have always been led to view MASN as a revenue-generator for the O's, but Angelos' comment appears to be an admission that he thinks it's the other way around. I don't think that's really what he meant, but the MASN partnership does create the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Give Angelos credit for being a shrewd businessman who made the most of a bad situation when Major League Baseball decided to move the Expos out of Montreal. He leveraged a number of economic concessions from MLB, including a guarantee of the value of the Orioles franchise and the lion's share of the regional sports network.

Ultimately, that will give the Orioles a huge advantage in the Baltimore-Washington market, which protects the future of the team in Baltimore no matter how few fans are willing to show up at Oriole Park, but it is small consolation for an Orioles fan following that has endured the deterioration of the franchise over the past decade or so.

Even though Angelos was stating what should be obvious, it was a statement that is going to stick in the craw of every fan who has bought into the notion that the Orioles have become one of baseball's perennial bottom-dwellers because their billionaire owner is too cheap to buy them out of oblivion.

Never mind that Angelos spent very liberally in the late 1990s to build the team that went to the American League Championship Series in back-to-back years (1996-1997) or that he overruled cooler heads by giving $65 million to Albert Belle to — he believed — keep the troubled superstar away from the New York Yankees. This is about perception more than reality.

Orioles fans are tired of the subpar product they've been asked to support for all these many bad years, and they've grown prematurely weary of the Andy MacPhail rebuilding plan because they view it as an excuse to hold down the payroll.

Angelos can very easily present the case that the MASN deal secured the financial future of the Orioles in the face of a new competitor that was set to absorb a large chunk of its market, and he would be correct. He can also try to reassure Orioles fans that the revenue generated by MASN through the various cable networks and ratings-dependent advertising will eventually be spent to turn the club back into a legitimate year-in-year-out contender in the American League East.

Of course, there's only one way to prove that, and the Orioles have yet to take a real swing at the free-agent market during the MacPhail era, so Angelos needs to understand that an enthusiastic endorsement of the Nationals might not be received by the fans in the exact spirit that it was intended.

In fact, it probably left some of them wondering who he's actually rooting for this weekend.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) on Fridays and Saturdays at noon and with Brett Hollander on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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