Peter Angelos' ownership of the Orioles seemed to hit a new low last fall when two well-respected candidates spurned the chance to become his top baseball executive.
Fans rolled their eyes and bit their lips when Angelos settled for Dan Duquette, who had been out of Major League Baseball for almost a decade after his demise as general manager of the Boston Red Sox.
It seemed that Angelos' Orioles, losers for 14 straight years, could only get a guy no one else wanted. Who could have guessed it was the prologue to a story of redemption for both franchise and owner?
But that's how it felt after the Orioles squeezed out a tense 3-2 playoff win over the New York Yankees Monday night before a euphoric packed house at Camden Yards. The five-game series resumes today in New York tied 1-1. An ebullient Angelos made a rare appearance in his team's clubhouse after Monday's game. "Come meet the boss," Duquette crowed as he ushered players to speak with Angelos, whom they seldom encounter.
Closer Jim Johnson gave the 83-year-old owner the game ball from his 43rd save of the season, which clinched the club's first winning season since 1997. "I don't know if he's rubbing it in or congratulating me," Angelos joked as he rounded the room, patting shoulders and telling the players to "Keep it up."
Some fans are reluctant to forgive the Orioles owner for 14 years of heartache.
But with his team winning playoff games and everyone loving the statues he commissioned to celebrate past Orioles greats, Angelos is encountering more public good will than he has in 15 years. Even past critics say this season has boosted a legacy that had soured over years of losing.
"Of course it helps his image," says Baltimore investment banker John Moag, who sparred with Angelos as former chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "Anytime the fans are feeling good, it rubs in all different directions, and some of that rub is going to be on the owner."
Nonetheless, Angelos has mostly chosen to remain cloistered in his downtown law office or his suite at Camden Yards, eschewing the spotlight as much as he did when his team was losing. His clubhouse appearance Monday was his first on any public stage during the playoff run, and even then, he politely declined interview requests.
"It was really spur of the moment," says Angelos' son, Louis, who was by his side. "It was such a great night all-around. People said to him, 'Maybe you should go down.' Buck [Showalter] has always told him to come on down whenever the mood strikes you. Surprisingly, he said, 'Let's go.' "
Louis Angelos says the season has been as magical for his father and his family as for anyone, though he sees it as bigger than a story of personal redemption.
"I don't really look at that way," he says. "You know if you're in my father's position, you're going to take heat if the team loses, no matter what. We're just thrilled this could all come together for the fans, for the city, for the region. It's really turning the page."
Of losing for years, he says, "It doesn't get much lower, I have to say. Now to have this all at once, the way it's come together, it's exhilarating. It's a privilege to be part of it. … You're thrilled you could deliver that for the fans."
Friends and observers say they're not surprised that Peter Angelos has stuck to his reclusive approach. They say the lawyer in him would hate the inconsistency of stepping forward just because his team is playing well. They add that he does not want to steal attention from his players and baseball executives.
Peter Angelos did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed. In fact, he rarely comments publicly about the Orioles unless he's releasing a prepared statement about significant news.
"He's not by nature a person who needs to stick his chest out or pat himself on the back in public," says Orioles general counsel H. Russell Smouse, one of Angelos' top legal associates. "I think he feels he's got good people running the club, and he's expressed confidence in their ability to do what needs to be done."
Angelos' son says he's particularly conscious of not interfering with the special bonds between his players and coaching staff.
"He's certainly been consistent about not wanting to intrude on what is viewed as their domain," says Louis Angelos, also an attorney at his father's law firm. "He doesn't want the spotlight and never has. He didn't in '96 or '97 either. He thought it was maybe misplaced or unnecessary."
But those who speak with Angelos regularly say he has followed every game closely and has taken immense pleasure from his team's return to winning. "He has a great smile," Smouse says. "And that smile has been in great evidence over the last few months."
Both Duquette and Showalter have praised Angelos as an encouraging presence throughout the year.