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Angelos, Selig Last Men Standing in D.C.'s Way

The changes enabled Selig to implement what are regarded by some as his biggest successes. They include interleague play, a wild-card playoff system, enhanced revenue-sharing among teams and a new rule limiting the amount of debt a team can carry. The rule goes into effect next year and already appears to have achieved the drag on salaries the owners have sought for three decades.

Spencer W. Waller, director of the Institute for Consumer Antitrust Studies at Loyola University in Chicago, said baseball's changes are logical when viewed in the context of its exemption from antitrust laws.

The Major League Constitution was rewritten to give Allan H. "Bud" Selig increased authority over economic issues. (Morry Gash -- AP)

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"The single biggest issue in any cartel is preventing the members from defecting from the agreement," Waller said. "Most of the reorganization of Major League Baseball in recent years is designed to detect and punish defection from the underlying agreements between the owners. It's the perfect thing you would expect the members of a cartel to do. It's not illegal; they have an exemption. But any economist would go, 'Oh, yeah. It makes perfect sense.' "

Owners and baseball officials said Selig is a master politician who uses tactics ranging from jaw-boning to ego massage to keep owners in line. He works the phones constantly and talks to most owners before coming to a decision, gradually building consensus. Selig controls all committee appointments, including the eight-owner Executive Council, which makes most major decisions.

One Major League Baseball official who has worked closely with Selig described him as "an expert in behavioral modification."

"Some of his preferred tools are off-the-record character assassination made to the media and other owners, and minimizing [owners'] participation in high-profile committees," the official said. "Remember that the majority of the owners are egocentric and want to be respected and admired by their peers. Most have paid a significant price to become a member of this exclusive club and hate the thought of being publicly or privately shunned or minimized by other members."

Selig's most successful project has been Angelos. "If Peter was backstabbing Bud and screwing the industry, we'd have a team in D.C. right now," said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. In fact, Selig and Angelos are "almost linked at the hip," the official said.

Angelos, in a phone interview Monday night, said Selig is aware of his often-stated concerns that a team in Washington or Northern Virginia would "cause serious economic consequences to the Orioles."

"I think Bud Selig is going to make up his mind on his own," Angelos said. "Foremost in his decision will be what he believes is good for baseball. Hopefully, that includes his desire to preserve the stability of the Orioles team. That's my position."

The relationship between Selig and Angelos has shifted 180 degrees since he bought the Orioles for $173 million -- at the time the highest price for a sports franchise -- at a 1993 bankruptcy auction. It was a decision, he joked, that grew out of "a moment of weakness, or a moment of ego nourishment."

The following year, Angelos famously opposed the Selig-led labor strategy that led to the cancellation of the World Series. He rejected the use of replacement players in 1995 as "Selig's delusion." He called revenue-sharing -- a centerpiece of the owners' economic proposal -- "the antithesis of the very essence of this country: competition."

The acting commissioner, Angelos told a writer at the time, was merely "a handmaiden of the owners."

Angelos now calls Selig "the best advocate for the game. Yeah, I once had different views. But they were in the beginning, when I was new and green."

Angelos said his views shifted for various reasons, including a growing disillusionment with a lopsided economic system that he said most rewards his divisional rivals, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Angelos spent lavishly to compete with those teams. In December 1998, he gave a five-year, $65 million contract to moody slugger Albert Belle, a bust whose career ended in March 2001 because of a degenerative hip condition. Beginning in 1998, the Orioles finished in fourth place in six straight seasons. Attendance fell from a franchise high of 3.7 million in 1997 to 2.5 million in 2003.

Orioles executives began to notice a change in Angelos. When he came into the game, the self-made attorney who became wealthy litigating class-action asbestos suits seemed to empathize with the players and their powerful union. He established a rapport with Donald Fehr, the union's executive director, whom the owners had sought to demonize.

"The more he dealt with players, and the longer he was in the game, the more he understood [that] these aren't dock workers," said one executive who worked under Angelos during this period and requested anonymity because he still does business with the Orioles.

Angelos began to refer to the players' association as a "guild," a term he used to draw comparisons of the players to pampered entertainers, according to a major league official who interacted with him.

At the same time, Selig said he had been having steady conversations with Angelos. "After the strike got settled, I made it a point to . . . talk to him, to explain things to him," Selig said. "And he, in running the club, began to run into considerable economic difficulties, to put it very bluntly. And the more we would talk, and the more we spent time together, well, it was just a very gradual thing. There was no precipitating event. He just came to understand."

By 2004, Angelos was espousing full National Football League-style revenue-sharing as a solution to baseball's economic problems. With it, he said, "obviously there would be no concern about . . . a team in close proximity to the Orioles or any other major league franchise."

Angelos's movement toward baseball's political center brought the sport a powerful advocate.

Angelos made $5,000 in political contributions during the 1993-94 election cycle, the years immediately after he entered Major League Baseball, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics and PoliticalMoneyLine.com.

From 2000 to '04, he gave $2,709,200, nearly all of it to Democrats. Including his family, Angelos donated more than $3 million to politicians during that period. Of Angelos's donations, the largest amount, $875,000, went to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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