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Marc Fisher

A Swing And a Miss For Angelos

By Marc Fisher
Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page B01

The Baron of Baltimore declared war on Washington over the weekend. At least he had enough self-awareness to leave his name off his manifesto.

Peter Angelos, the locally loathed owner of the Baltimore Orioles (he managed to leave his home town's name out of his declaration, too), bought a full-page ad in Sunday's Washington Post to whine to "all fans of baseball" about how the Washington Nationals would have a "profound adverse impact" on his business. He asserted hegemony over all of the United States from Pennsylvania through Maryland, the District, Virginia and on down to North Carolina. (The Orioles' real territory, per their contract with baseball, is Baltimore city and county, and Harford, Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties -- period.) And he denied any intent to deprive Washington fans of the chance to watch their team on TV.

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"Nothing," Angelos protests, "could be further from the truth." He's happy to put Nats games on his Orioles TV network. He'll even pay the Nationals a fee. Gee, thanks, boss.

The man who said last year that "there are no real baseball fans in D.C." now contends that the success of his Baltimore franchise depends on those phantom fans from Washington. He apparently believes he can win back D.C. fans by savaging their new home team, even as he puts a tepid Orioles squad on the field.

Baseball executives say Angelos has two goals. One is to take a disproportionate share of profits from the Nationals, who already appear to be outperforming the Orioles at the box office (and maybe even on the playing field). If he can't accomplish that, sprinkle a little hell around greater Washington by keeping the Nats off TV and undermining efforts to build the team's fan base. "He certainly is laying out a legal position," says Bill Hall, a key negotiator for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission in the deal to win the Nats.

In Baltimore and Annapolis, politicians have long catered to the boss man's whims. He wanted to change state law to make it easier to sue tobacco companies and asbestos makers; no problem -- Angelos even declared himself "author" of the bill.

But Angelos's magic doesn't extend to Washington. He tried and failed to buy the Redskins. He tried to buy Rosecroft Raceway and turn it into a slots palace, but Prince George's County legislators blocked him and Angelos retreated. Now he's trying to sabotage Washington's new baseball franchise by claiming control of its TV broadcasts.

Angelos doesn't understand that this is not Baltimore, where a manicured street fighter who plays rough can be a hero. Washington is as susceptible to wealth worship as any town, but its pantheon of power brokers includes men who use their wealth to better the community, not just to amass power.

Abe Pollin took his real estate riches and built the District a sports arena, sparking downtown development in a city that desperately needed it. Jim Kimsey, a co-founder of America Online, sends every D.C. fifth-grader to see theater at the Kennedy Center and works to secure the future of the Washington National Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra. The late Izzy Cohen, whose family founded and ran Giant Food before it was taken over by a Dutch conglomerate, pumped profits into a long menu of efforts to support local schools and children.

Angelos is a monopolist. He thrives where competition cannot. Protected by baseball's antitrust exemption, he rakes in the dough and strips a once-great franchise. He works the politicians and gains sole control over Maryland's deal with the tobacco companies, then demands $1 billion in legal fees from the state.

The idea of another baseball team down the road would energize a strong owner. Not Angelos: The only share he'll accede to is the lion's share -- all.

Luckily, Major League Baseball has every reason to tell Angelos to stuff it. Every extra dollar that goes to Angelos from a joint O's-Nats TV deal is a fistful of bucks lifted from the pockets of all of baseball's owners, because the Nationals still belong to MLB, and the price for the team will be determined largely by its potential TV revenue.

So a desperate Angelos tries threats and propaganda. Next: his inevitable lawsuit. That's what he does. But this time, he's up against an entire metropolis. Every fan in Washington gets to send Angelos a message. All it takes is a $7 click of the Nats turnstile.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company