Peter Angelos remains a powerful paradox

At 81, the Orioles owner is busy adding to his complicated legacy

October 02, 2010|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

He is the baseball owner whose meddling has inspired years of fan griping, and the guy who wanted so badly to win, he lent more than $100 million from his personal fortune to cover his club's money losses.

He is the controlling boss who ran through six top baseball executives in less than a decade, and the man who offered his private plane and doctor to help his second baseman through back trouble.

He is the argumentative cuss who brusquely ended his friendship with a fellow civic leader, and the Baltimore kid who made good who gave $300,000 to keep the city's pools open this summer, insisting that he get no credit for the gesture.

Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos is a paradox, say friends and foes alike. And, at age 81, with fans perpetually speculating when he might fade into the background, Angelos is instead busy adding to his complicated legacy.

The Orioles will close out a volatile season on Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards. They began as poorly as they ever have in 13 straight losing seasons under Angelos, then surged behind Buck Showalter, the manager he favored from early in a mid-season search.

Beyond the field, Angelos has played a more active role than ever in the Orioles' day-to-day business operations. The team and the cable network Angelos spun off are worth an estimated $1 billion, which would be a 478-percent profit on the $173 million his group paid for the baseball franchise in 1993. Angelos also remains one of the largest Democratic political donors in the country, one of the leading philanthropists in Baltimore and a workaholic lawyer who toils 12 hours a day in his 22nd-floor office at One Charles Center.

"I think his legacy is going to be all over the map," says 1st Mariner Bank Chairman Ed Hale, whose friendship with Angelos was abruptly severed when the Orioles owner sued him for erecting billboards on 1st Mariner Arena in 2003, calling the signs "visual clutter" that could hamper westside redevelopment.

Hale, who also owns the Baltimore Blast, says he and Angelos bonded over their respective rises from Highlandtown and shared monthly lunches in Little Italy. But he says Angelos refused to see him when Hale went to his office to discuss the sign dispute. They have barely spoken in the seven years since.

"Why have two guys from the same neighborhood, both considered civic leaders, pitted in a fight like that?" Hale says. "I can't understand why we couldn't sit down and talk it out. To this day, I don't understand it. If he's not going to get his way and you won't kiss his ring, he'll cut you off."

Where critics see an impatient, combative and domineering figure who has undermined many of the praiseworthy things he's done, admirers see a brilliant, principled, generous man whose reputation is unfairly soiled by the stench of a losing baseball team.

"I think Peter is really a gift to Baltimore City," says his sometime lawyer William H. Murphy Jr. "He's a brilliant entrepreneur with a blue-collar soul. People see him as an asbestos lawyer who has mismanaged the Orioles, but that's such a warped view of the man."

Even those who appreciate Angelos' remarkable biography, however, say the Orioles' failings will overshadow his achievements.

"The only constant has been Peter and so his legacy, tragically and to some degree correctly, will reflect his stewardship of the team," says the club's former chief operating officer, Joe Foss. "It's what the public will remember about him, though it's only one facet of his life."

A guarded figure

After 13 years of losing baseball, Angelos is, in many ways, a changed figure.

Where he used to attend 70-75 games a year (he'd arrive a few innings in because he was unwilling to cut short his work at the law office), he is now rarely seen at the park. Where he once made bold pronouncements to the local press about his ambitions for the club, he now virtually never speaks on the record. Where he was hailed for rescuing the hometown team, he is now widely criticized as a meddler who can't pick the right executives and won't spend for the best players.

"He bought the team with his heart in the right place, and he's put so much of his soul and his money into it," says Janet Marie Smith, the club's vice president for planning and development. "It's painful how long it has been since he's been able to enjoy it."

Angelos has become a guarded figure who turns down most interview requests, including several for this article, and shrugs off suggestions that he spend more time around his team. Even admirers are often reluctant to talk about him.

"Does he know you're writing about him?" asks his friend, University of Baltimore President Robert L. Bogomolny. "He doesn't like it when people talk about him too much."

Angelos would not have disclosed $10 million in recent gifts to his alma mater unless Bogomolny had convinced him that the publicity would help attract other donations and unlock state funding for a new law building.

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