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Angelos's Season for Fighting

Combative Baltimore Lawyer and Orioles Owner Defends Territory From Threat of a New Team

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 15, 2004; Page A01

Ask Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos why he doesn't want baseball to return to Washington, and it doesn't take long for the exasperation to show.

"This isn't about me," Angelos pleaded in a recent interview, lowering his booming baritone for emphasis. "The facts are speaking here, not the emotions or personal interest."

At spring training 1994, Peter G. Angelos is flanked by Orioles Rafael Palmeiro, left, and Chris Sabo. Angelos, who built his practice representing workers, refused to field a team of replacement players during the 1994-95 baseball strike. (James A. Finley -- AP)

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Coming from Angelos, such an assessment is bound to invite some skepticism. Since he made his first millions as a lawyer handling asbestos cases, Angelos's reputation has rested precisely on his ability to fight -- and fight fiercely -- for his clients' interests and his own.

As a plaintiffs' attorney, owner of a major league baseball team, real estate investor and philanthropist, Angelos has shown a hard-wired determination to get what he wants -- whether that means running to friendly politicians for help, parlaying his business connections or opening his wallet for maximum effect.

It is because of this reputation that Angelos's recent maneuverings on two of the region's biggest controversies -- the future of baseball and the fight to legalize slot-machine gambling in Maryland -- are being scrutinized.

Angelos, who at 75 is still scrappy and confident, said he feels a bit bruised by his portrayal as "an ogre" in the Washington media and said he can be too quick to return a punch. Some of his recent verbal jousting seems to have done him little good, including a comment on a radio program last month that "there are no real baseball fans in D.C."

As Angelos sees it, though, the case for baseball coming to Washington -- or Northern Virginia, for that matter -- should be summarily dismissed. Putting another franchise so close to the Orioles would cut into his team's fan base, particularly in Washington's Maryland suburbs, and siphon off more than half of the Orioles' television revenue, Angelos contended. Neither team, he said, would be in a position to prosper.

"There's no animus directed at Northern Virginia or Washington," said Angelos, who led a partnership in purchasing the Orioles at a 1993 bankruptcy auction for $173 million. "It simply won't work."

Angelos's involvement in Maryland's slots fight has been more peripheral but still has sparked plenty of intrigue.

In June, Angelos's wife and two sons struck a tentative deal to purchase Rosecroft Raceway, a financially struggling harness-racing track in Prince George's County, for $13 million. It is widely considered a prime venue for slot machines if they are legalized by the Maryland General Assembly.

Angelos said his role has been limited to providing unpaid counsel to his family.

Under Major League Baseball rules, Angelos is not permitted to have an ownership stake in a gambling enterprise. Yet Rosecroft's owners and leading slots advocates in the legislature have openly courted his involvement, hopeful that his clout would help break a two-year stalemate over gambling.

Angelos said he harbors real doubts about the wisdom of using slots proceeds to fund government programs, but he added, "You know, I could sit around and philosophize, moralize and otherwise, but this is happening."

In recent weeks, however, the prospects for an agreement among legislative leaders on a slots bill have continued to dim, and the Rosecroft deal may be falling apart as well. Angelos confirmed last week that negotiations over his family's purchase of the track are in a "suspended state."

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