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George Solomon

Angelos Gets a Free Pass, and Washington Pays

By George Solomon
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page E02

Can we talk?

It's clear to me Orioles owner Peter Angelos begins the 2005 baseball season with a record of one win and one loss. The win, of course, was Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig on Thursday awarding 90 percent ownership and profits of a regional sports network to Angelos and the Orioles in a one-sided partnership with the Washington Nationals.

The loss, and it's a big one, is that at noon today, the Washington Nationals host the New York Mets in an exhibition game at RFK Stadium many fans thought would never happen. A baseball game in Washington, hosted by a Washington team Angelos so vehemently opposed, in a town Angelos believed belonged to him as though, wrote the late Shirley Povich, "we were an occupied city."

Gilbert Arenas, who scored 36 points in the Wizards' 102-99 win over Atlanta on Wednesday night, has helped the team to its best record entering April in 26 years. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

Even with his one loss, Angelos still won big despite what Selig wants us to believe, offering platitudes: "He [Angelos] was relentless in his desire to preserve and protect the Baltimore Orioles franchise now and for future generations. His concerns, which he expressed often and well, were not about himself or his ownership interest, but rather to establish a means by which to ensure the future viability of the Orioles franchise. I don't know many other people who would have fought so vigorously for such purposes."

Please, Bud, we felt for you a little last month when the Henry Waxman-Tom Davis congressional hearing all but accused you of discovering and selling steroids like a mad scientist out of your Milwaukee office. But don't tell us what went down last week was fair and anything but a way to keep Angelos from dragging you and the 29 owners into court for simply doing the right thing by allowing the Montreal Expos to move to the nation's eighth-largest market. Whose fault was it you told Angelos you'd "never doing anything to hurt" him; you and your predecessors hurt millions of Washingtonians for more than three decades by avoiding us. And what's so bad about hurting Angelos?

Angelos has been anything but altruistic in his motives since the Expos went on the block three years ago, opposing their move here despite his having no legal right, turning his back on the many fans who supported the Orioles in the 33 seasons Washington was without a team and behaving like a bully in a schoolyard. He won this fight, despite the $21 million rights fees to the Washington team, because a healthy regional sports network like the one in New England can be worth as much as $800 million.

Selig can guarantee a sale price of $365 million for the O's, if and when Angelos sells the team; but why hang a thousand-pound weight on a new franchise MLB hopes to sell for between $350 million and $400 million? A new owner needs room to operate to avoid becoming another small-market punching bag, or has Selig forgotten his Milwaukee roots? Bud, you wanted a new ballpark from D.C., with public financing, you got it. You wanted a renovated 45,000-seat RFK Stadium, fit for play today, you got it. You also have the revenue from nearly 2 million tickets sold.

You are still going to find several local ownership groups willing to write MLB a check for more than $350 million for this team, despite Thursday's devaluation, as crazy as that may seem to any financial analyst. But don't think Davis and Waxman haven't followed this latest saga, either, and if they call me to testify I'm eager to talk about the past.

The Wizards' Party

Weary of waiting for Angelos, went to the "welcome home, Wizards" party at MCI Center Wednesday night to celebrate the team's 3-2 road trip, laudable because it was accomplished in seven nights and despite the absence of a number of key players because of injuries.

The arena has taken on a festive feel, as Abe's Wizards' 102-99 victory over the last-place Hawks put them 10 games over .500 at April 1 -- the club's best record at this point in the season in 26 years. That makes some fans and team officials slightly giddy, including Washington lawyer and longtime press aide Dolph Sand, who asked, "Can you believe how long it's been?" Of course Sand, who wasn't always gray-haired, shook his head at my response that 26 years wasn't such a long time.

In the locker room after the game, there were no celebrations, only a sense of satisfaction and pride that Coach Eddie Jordan and GM Ernie Grunfeld have helped instill. "Well, congratulations to us," said Gilbert Arenas, who scored 36 points against the Hawks and is worth the price of admission.

"We've found a way to win games," said Larry Hughes, who plays great on offense and steals the ball a lot and who in the last year of his contract needs to be re-signed.

Other observations:

Fun to watch former Terps -- Laron Profit, Juan Dixon and Steve Blake -- playing well for the Wizards ("don't forget Obinna Ekezie for Atlanta" reminded their former coach, Gary Williams). Profit, 27, started the game Wednesday night -- a major accomplishment since this is his second tour with the Wizards, he seems to bounce on and off the roster and has known what it's like to be released. "I'm happy to be here," he said. "It's great to be on a winning team; makes all the stuff easier to deal with."

Jordan had to leave the court in the first half because of the flu, putting assistant Mike O'Koren in charge. O'Koren said he was "glad I had my notes." Team doctor Stephen Haas pointed out that injured center Brendan Haywood has the same fracture on the tip of his thumb (different hand) as Hughes had. "Never seen two injuries so similar in one season," Haas said, promising to bill me for the quote. Besides Haywood, Haas is treating Jarvis Hayes and Antawn Jamison for leg ailments.

Same fans who used to boo Juwan Howard now boo Kwame Brown, who does make too many mistakes and like some teammates isn't so great on defense. "When you come back from an injury, it's starting over," said Grunfeld. Kwame is always starting over, it seems. Former Bullet Tom Gugliotta, still a shooter, was in the house playing for Atlanta, his 13th year in the league. Hope the Wizards invite Wes, Elvin, Grevey, Bobby D, Mitch and the rest of the '78 champion Bullets back for a playoff game and lower the volume of the music during play and get rid of the annoying ThunderStix noisemakers.

The High Road

In the midst of the "me" era, love the tack D.C. United President Kevin Payne has taken in sharing RFK with the Nats. "Everyone [United, Nats and the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission] is working hard to make this work. We believe the addition of baseball rounds out the city as a great sports town," he said.

Have a comment or question, reach me at Talkback@washpost.com.

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