For Angelos, It's Owner and Duty
By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 2, 1997; Page D01
Even on a day off, the owner is looking sharp. Sunlight bounces off his black shoes. The blue suit lies perfectly, the pants crease crisply where they're supposed to. His thinning hair is swept back, not a strand out of place even in a brisk breeze. His hands are freshly washed. A thick gold band glistens on his ring finger, the outer edge of a gold watch peeks out from under a starched white cuff.
He steps into a restaurant and all eyes turn. Murmurs follow him through the room. Peter Angelos is a short fellow who carries himself like a Big Guy. Not to say that he's stuffy or highfalutin. Anything but. The owner is a man who jabs the air with his stubby fingers to make a point. He's a millionaire who thinks of himself as a city kid who has had to scramble to make it.
For three years now, ever since he plunked down $173 million to buy the Baltimore Orioles, joining the joy bucks club of baseball owners, Angelos has been examined for evidence of incipient Steinbrenner Syndrome. It's a sad, degenerative ailment in which an otherwise healthy magnate suffers illusions of baseball brilliance, begins making roster changes and generally turns his baseball executives into quivering towers of overly expensive Jello. But if Angelos has stepped in to halt trades, if he has somehow robbed Orioles fans of their beloved radio announcer, if he has second-guessed his managers and dispatched them with Steinbrenneresque rapidity, Peter Angelos is also an owner who writes the big checks and then stays far from Florida's spring training camp. He is an owner who has incurred the wrath of his peers by standing up for his beliefs, which luckily coincided with the views of most fans, making him a folk hero during baseball's devastating strike of '95.
Angelos is a fabulously wealthy man who says he makes not a penny on baseball's most apparently successful franchise. He is a control freak who runs a huge Baltimore law firm in which the sole partner is the man whose name is nailed to the wall above the receptionist's cubicle -- Peter G. Angelos.
When star pitcher Mike Mussina refuses to sign a multiyear contract, Angelos steps in and takes over negotiations -- not because he's usurping the turf of his general manager, Pat Gillick, but because, as Angelos says, "When we think it tactically makes sense, we give the GM a respite, because that's what lawyers do."
Back in '95, when Angelos declared he would refuse to allow replacement players in his ballpark or on his team, other owners openly denounced him as an anarchist, a bomb thrower, an ignoramus. But in the months since, the Orioles owner has methodically repaired relations.
"Peter Angelos has really begun to understand the global issues in baseball," says acting commissioner Bud Selig, giving faint praise. "We all learn over time. When I first came into baseball, I didn't say a word for two years. [Houston Astros chairman] Drayton McLane said to me the other day, `I wish you'd not have allowed me to make any decisions for the first two years.' Obviously, we had some huge differences of opinion with Peter Angelos during the strike and even after it. But since then, the relationship couldn't be better.
"He is a very intense man and obviously wants to win, and that's not a bad thing."
Selig's coy mix of compliment and complaint seems to shock Angelos.
"I'm surprised he said that," says the owner. "He and I have had some heavy conversations about the problems in baseball. In retrospect, the owners recognize that I was very concerned about what was happening to baseball."
Angelos is silent for some seconds. And then, still mulling over Selig's words, he backs down: "I'll accept what he said. Obviously, I'm a person who's very outspoken. The fact that I've just arrived on the scene doesn't deter me. Baseball is something like the U.S. Senate. You're supposed to sit quietly in the back row while the country goes to hell, and I don't do that well. I was somewhat harsh in some of the things I had to say about the strategies of ownership and I may have hurt some feelings, and for that I'm sorry."
The topic appears to be finished. But a couple of minutes later, Angelos brings it up again: "Understand, we'd just spent $173 million for a baseball club. Now, that doesn't make our strategy appropriate or productive."
The owner is apologizing. Profusely. Two years after the fact.
Is this the same man who publicly humiliated Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone last summer, nixing their proposed trades of Bobby Bonilla and David Wells?
Angelos is still proud of those moves.
"I guess I was intruding in the baseball area," he says, smiling impishly. "It was proposed we trade away four or five of our key players and in return get young players to build the future. But we were five games behind in the wild card race. The players being talked about coming to us were minor league players -- never heard of them! For Wells and Bonilla! I felt if we conceded defeat with two months to go in the season, the fans would be disappointed."
Angelos knew he wasn't going to keep Wells or Bonilla after the '96 season. They were just too expensive. But he knew they could mean the difference between making it into postseason play and going straight home. And they did.
"Mr. Angelos looked at the situation from a different angle," says Malone. "It's his money and his club. And in retrospect, he was right. The right decision was to try to win."
The owner knows this already. He knew it then. He knows it now. On this, he apologizes for nothing.
The owner may be hugely rich, but he likes to think like a regular guy. That's why he's carping even now about the Roberto Alomar spit snit.
"OK, what the kid did was unfortunate, but it was understandable," Angelos says of Alomar, who spit on umpire John Hirschbeck after being called out on strikes during a late September game in Toronto. "I don't condone it. But in light of what I know the umpire said, that reaction could have been anticipated. I heard what everyone said then, but I wanted the real truth. So I asked around, and according to my information, Hirschbeck was the aggressor."
The owner is banging on the table now. He cannot believe that the resources of the nation's media have not been concentrated on an investigation into precisely who said what to whom in the moments before Alomar let loose with the spittle felt around the nation.
And then Angelos tells the story as he has reported it. In this version, it was the umpire who, yelling at Orioles Manager Davey Johnson while Alomar stood nearby, said, "I don't care about him [Alomar]. This guy's nothing but a . . . " and Hirschbeck then allegedly called the second baseman a bodily orifice that has somehow had sexual relations with his mother.
Angelos, telling the story now over his morning eggs, pounds the table, assaults the air with his fingers. He draws up his shoulders, leans over the table and pronounces: "Where I come from, what I would do -- you don't want to know. Those words! Coming from that authority figure!"
He settles down, takes a swig of coffee, lowers his voice, and assumes a lawyerly pose. "The characterization of Alomar as the culprit is a grave miscarriage of justice," the owner says, and you want to check behind yourself to see if a robed judge has magically appeared in the next booth.
Of course, it is months after the event. Meetings have been held, arrangements made. This was supposed to go away. But now Angelos says he wants the umpire to make his apology again, this time before the microphones. "All I wish is he'd say it publicly," the owner says.
Angelos also wants the press to reflect his version of events.
"I collected the facts, and the facts I have tell me the matter has been mischaracterized," he says. "Why is it always called the `Alomar spitting incident?' Why isn't it called the `umpire saying the player had sexual relations with his mother incident?' Tell me why your paper doesn't call it that?"
Stepping Back -- to a Point
Angelos wants fans to believe that he steps in only in dire situations, that he lets his baseball people run the show. "It shouldn't be a problem to divide where you should decide and where you're treading on the professionals' turf," Angelos says.
Let's put the theory into play. Cal Ripken moving to third base? "Wasn't my idea," the owner says. "You can go either way on that one."
But two minutes later, Angelos says this: "The manager should be able to handle that situation. The streak, as far as I'm concerned, is ended. The goals are met. I don't think it's important."
So has Angelos told Johnson and Ripken that the Iron Man must sit out a game?
"That's not my function," the owner says. "I'm merely saying the streak serves no purpose. A manager has an obligation to rest a player when he isn't functioning at top level. To do otherwise is to jeopardize the chances of winning. Now, I say this more as a fan than as a so-called owner."
Put yourself in Davey Johnson's place and parse that paragraph. "Merely." "Obligation." "Jeopardize." "Fan." And "so-called owner." How do you read it?
Angelos continues: "If I was saying it as an owner, I'd pick up the phone and say, `Baby . . . ' "
And what happens if the manager disagrees and lets Ripken keep going?
"If he does otherwise, I have to assume the results will demonstrate the wisdom of that decision," Angelos replies.
This may not quite fit the dictionary definition of "job security."
Losing His Voice
Jon Miller, the voice of summer for many years with the Orioles, is now the radio voice of the San Francisco Giants. He says he didn't want to leave Baltimore. He's keeping his house in Maryland. Maybe his heart, too.
Miller is angry at how it all turned out, angry above all at the man he says he never even had a chance to talk to, the owner.
"Never more than handshakes at banquets," Miller says. "I worked for him for three years and he never said a word. Then, all of a sudden, when my contract is up, he has reservations. We could have talked about it."
When time came to renegotiate the announcer's contract, Miller's agent, Ron Shapiro, tried to reach the team's baseball executives, but his calls were not returned, Miller says. "People were never really empowered to do anything," Miller says. "They always had to wait for word from Angelos."
When Shapiro finally reached the owner, Angelos said "he didn't know why he was paying so much money to someone who was negative toward his club," Miller recounts.
Angelos has a different recollection. He says Shapiro tried to rush him into new contract talks before the Orioles had completed work on a new deal with Baltimore's WBAL-AM, which paid half of Miller's salary.
"That's all lies," the owner says of Miller's belief that Angelos wanted to get rid of him because he sometimes criticized the club. "Of course we would have kept him. Would I have paid him what the Giants gave him, $500,000 a year for five years? No way."
So Angelos had no problem with Miller's work?
"In my conversations with his agent, I was asked in a friendly way what I thought of his broadcasts. I said he's pretty good, but he'd do well to bleed a little black and orange. I mean, in that fifth playoff game, we were losing 6-1, and he was as joyful that we were losing and out of the playoffs as if he were a Yankee announcer."
Each side in the dispute blames the other for not sitting down to talk. And Angelos says Miller wanted out of Baltimore from the start. "The facts are, Mrs. Miller wanted to return to San Francisco," the owner contends. "That's where she's from."
Miller hotly disputes this, and points to the fact that his wife and children are staying behind in Baltimore while he summers in California.
Angelos says that in the future, there will be no more long-term contracts for Orioles announcers. "You need to be able to renew every two years," the owner says. "Keeps people honest."
`A Certain Authority Maintained'
Peter Angelos, on George Steinbrenner:
"George has some interesting qualities. He is truly a hands-on owner, and some people believe he overdoes it. That's his style. It's certainly not my style. I'm not down in Lauderdale blowing a whistle to the players. George carries himself like a coach. He's a unique character, a conversation piece. Do we disagree? Yes. But I consider him a friend. He's got a good horse, too."
Peter Angelos, on being the owner:
"I'm not here to take up space and hand over a check for $50 million or $60 million every December. Would you ask that of Bell Atlantic? I mean, what the hell is the top guy there for, just to draw a salary -- which I don't draw, by the way. The baseball writers have almost convinced the general public that that's the way it ought to be.
"Always, there is a certain authority maintained. If they're going to trade off half the team, they should be certain I'll be looking over their shoulders. If an editor of The Washington Post wanted to endorse Marx and Lenin, [publisher] Don Graham would fire him."
A few minutes later, Angelos asks, "Are you going to put that Marx and Lenin bit in?" And he leans back, a deep smile of satisfaction stretching across his face.
© 1997 The Washington Post Company