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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

In 1996, he refused to let Gillick trade away Bobby Bonilla and David Wells, saying the moves would betray the trust of 3.5 million paying fans who expected a contender. The Orioles surged over the last two months and won the American League Wild Card. Observers say it was the turning point when Angelos became convinced of his baseball acumen.

As recently as 2006, Angelos killed a deal that would have sent second baseman Brian Roberts to Atlanta for first baseman Adam LaRoche and second baseman Marcus Giles. Roberts continued to play at an All-Star level, while Giles was out of baseball after the following season and LaRoche never matched his power totals from 2006.

"Peter shouldn't be portrayed as an ignorant baseball person," Foss says. "His methodical reviews of medical records were right on, and in individual cases, he was often right on in turning down deals."

The problem, former executives say, is that Angelos created an environment of mistrust in which his general managers couldn't execute deals because counterparts from other teams believed the owner had the final word.

Gillick rarely felt comfortable in the job after Angelos blocked him in 1996, and left two years later. After a year off, he built playoff teams in Seattle and later Philadelphia.

Angelos showed even less confidence in Gillick's successor, Frank Wren, who said he tried to resign a few weeks after he was hired for the 1999 season and was fired after less than a year.

"I couldn't deal with that level of involvement from Peter and his boys," Wren told former Sun columnist John Eisenberg for "From 33rd Street to Camden Yards," his oral history of the club. "You needed approval for things and the approval process dragged on forever, so long that you couldn't hardly get anything done."

Wren, now the general manager of the Atlanta Braves, predicted that the Orioles would never be a consistent winner under Angelos. "Nobody can go forward with anything that's going to be productive without an OK from Peter, and he doesn't understand most of the issues," Wren, who couldn't be reached for an interview, told Eisenberg. "I just don't see how it can work."

In fact, Angelos could not find the winning formula with Wren's replacement, Syd Thrift, or with the two-headed executive teams of Mike Flanagan/Jim Beattie and Flanagan/Jim Duquette. Nonetheless, he maintained a burning desire to win, say former executives. Nowhere was that more evident, sources say, than in his willingness to give hefty personal loans to cover the team's financial losses in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The loans, never publicly revealed by Angelos or confirmed by the club, totaled more than $100 million, according to sources familiar with team finances.

Angelos then wiped away the financial pressures with what many consider his best and boldest stroke as Orioles owner.

After years of fighting baseball's expansion to Washington, he leveraged the 2005 arrival of the Nationals into a dominant stake in the cable network that broadcasts both teams' games. The network's deals with local cable carriers provide a never-ending stream of cash that should, theoretically, allow the Orioles to compete with television-rich rivals such as the Yankees and Red Sox.

Executives familiar with the business say the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network was immensely profitable from Day 1 and churns out as much as $45 million a year, despite sub-standard advertising sales. Because of long-term deals that force cable providers to pay $2 a household across a huge geographic region, the network is almost impossible to mess up, cable analysts say, even in lean advertising times.

"He made the deal of a lifetime, and he hasn't gotten the proper credit for it," says Bob Leffler, whose Baltimore-based advertising agency works with MASN and Angelos' law office along with numerous sports teams around the country. "The big things people do as stewards of a franchise are often lost in the winning and losing. But the base of this franchise is solid."

Angelos capitalized on his reputation as an unrelenting negotiator to create MASN, a $600 million property, almost overnight, says an executive who was involved in the negotiations.

"They were scared to death to negotiate with him," the executive says of Major League Baseball officials.

A new era

For years, Angelos discounted the accepted wisdom that an owner should keep his hands out of baseball decisions.

Nonetheless, sources said that at the time Angelos hired Andy MacPhail in 2007, he promised wide latitude to the new president of baseball operations. By all accounts, that has happened.

"I would not have moved my family here if I did not implicitly trust the man," MacPhail says. "And he's lived up to his end."

Angelos allowed MacPhail to trade stars Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada for prospects. He invested heavily in contracts for first-round picks Matt Wieters, Brian Matusz and Manny Machado and lower-round draftees such as Jake Arrieta.

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