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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 insisted on anonymity when he donated $300,000 to help keep the city's pools operating during a historically hot summer, say two sources who confirm the gift. He has rejected publicity for countless good deeds, from donating a parking lot to the Greek Orthodox cathedral his wife's family helped found to helping with medical costs for critically ill Orioles employees. He has never disclosed his personal loans to the Orioles, though fans have accused of him of refusing to spend adequately on the team.

"He's a very private person," Bogomolny says. "But he remembers how important his education was in setting him up to accomplish the things he has. He wants others to have the same chance."

Angelos has no interest in using his good deeds to combat criticism over his baseball team, say those who wish he would talk more about his philanthropy.

"He just never feels compelled to defend himself through the media," says former Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson, who lashed out against Angelos' critics in an op-ed piece in The Sun last year. "I don't think he has time for things he thinks are trivial. But I do wish he was out there more so people could know the person I know."

When asked for an interview at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new law school named after his parents, Angelos is cordial. "Someday, we'll do it," he says. "Call my office. But no promises."

Triumph and despair

Lost in all the despair and blame accrued over 13 straight losing seasons is this: Angelos has authored a great American story.

Born on the Fourth of July, the son of Greek immigrants came of age serving steelworkers at his family's tavern in Highlandtown. He made one of Maryland's great fortunes representing those same workers in asbestos cases, blending the toughness of a street kid with the shrewdness of a born negotiator and an intellect that has consistently awed associates, employees and rivals. His share from more than $1 billion in asbestos settlements allowed Angelos to buy one of his hometown's most cherished institutions: the Orioles.

"I think his genuine motivation was to make sure this civic treasure did not fall into someone else's hands," Foss says. "Peter is deeply pro-Baltimore. There's no b.s. about that at all."

In fact, Angelos' passion for Baltimore institutions has been a constant theme in his life. After he bought the Orioles, he tried to acquire an NFL team that could be moved here. He has donated millions to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Last year, when the Preakness seemed in danger of leaving Maryland, he offered state leaders a financial hand to keep it, though ultimately, his assistance wasn't needed. In February, he paid $1.45 million for Boccaccio, the Little Italy restaurant where he hosted countless lunches with fellow power brokers over the years.

At first, Angelos fulfilled fans' dreams for the Orioles, pumping tens of millions of dollars into the on-field product. On the bats and arms of his free agents, the club made back-to-back postseasons in 1996 and 1997 after 13 years in the cold. Fans jammed Camden Yards night after night. Political heavyweights and movie stars such as Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Bill Murray toured the warehouse, soaking in the new vanguard of ballpark architecture. The national press hailed Angelos' courage in standing against his fellow owners during the 1994 strike, when he was the only one who took a pro-labor position against using replacement players.

"It was enormous fun," Foss says. "You could see him walk in with pride emanating from every pore."

Angelos assumed ownership with promises that he would not meddle. "At this juncture, my role has ended," he said just before his first season. "I am back to the spectators' ranks."

But along the way, former executives say, Angelos' lust for winning and pride in his own judgment led him to undermine his baseball decision-makers.

After proven winner Pat Gillick quietly walked away from the general manager's job because he was tired of the micromanaging, Angelos ran through a succession of executives who either rubbed him the wrong way, could not steer the team back to success or both. The club seemed forever stuck between a desire to win right away and the sense that it needed to be rebuilt from the minor leagues up.

With a hollowed-out farm system and overpaid mediocrities on the field, the Orioles became one of baseball's most consistent losers. In 2009, Sports Illustrated named Angelos the worst owner in baseball.

But even Angelos' record on baseball decisions is more complicated than it might seem. A review of the decisions that he blocked or second-guessed shows that he was often correct.

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