By Thomas Boswell
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
It's better to remain silent and be thought a meddlesome nightmare owner than to speak and remove all doubt. Now the Orioles and their fans know the truth. Peter Angelos hasn't changed. His silence in recent years, the claims of his organization that he no longer holds every major decision hostage to his whims, means nothing. He's just gone underground.
The Baltimore owner still vetoes major trades to keep his favorite players in town regardless of the preferences of the men he has running his team. He'll still blow up any deal, free agent signing or draft pick if he feels like it. And he'll do it for any reason that pleases him. For an owner who inherited a great franchise and turned it into a disaster with nine straight losing seasons, no confession is more damaging. All of baseball will read Angelos's latest words and shake its head in pity for the O's.
"I just thought that Brian [Roberts] should stay an Oriole, not that the front office didn't think so. They were looking at it from a standpoint of improving the ballclub," Angelos said Sunday, confirming that he nixed an offseason deal for slugging first baseman Adam LaRoche. "And they may have been totally right. I looked on it as the retention of a player that came through our system and who is of such great value to the club for all the things that he does out there with the public and in the hospitals and so on.
"This is a special kind of player, just like Cal Ripken was for the Orioles. And the kind of player you want to keep as part of the organization. And so there's an area where one might say that I have interfered, but I felt impelled to do that from the standpoint of keeping a player that I thought was critical."
It's almost hard to imagine where to start. Did Angelos think he'd be hailed a hero because he saved a popular second baseman from being traded?
For a trial lawyer who is accustomed to speaking extemporaneously and being accountable for every word, this must be a career-worst summation to the jury. In the offseason, team executives Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette were considering a deal to "improve the ballclub." But Angelos squelched it because Roberts is a fan favorite who's great for the Orioles' image?
Roberts has great value to the club "in the hospitals and so on"?
LaRoche hit 32 homers in 492 at-bats last year and, at 27, is just entering his prime. The Orioles have no first baseman. Okay, they have people who own large gloves and can stand near first base. But they don't have a smooth-fielding, left-handed hitting first baseman who, if he got 600 at-bats a year, might be the 40-homer anchor that the Orioles need in the middle of their lineup behind Miguel Tejada.
Roberts is a special player but he's not "just like Cal Ripken." However, that's the sort of bizarre comment you'd expect Angelos to make. He's precise and analytical in business and law, yet he never seems to get anything exactly right in baseball. His view of the game is tilted, warped, just not quite right.
In other words, as brilliant as he is in other fields, his gifts don't translate to baseball. The verdict came in long ago: He doesn't have it. Just because Angelos made a billion dollars and bought a team, that doesn't mean he understands the sport it plays. He's still a baseball dope. That's okay. It's no sin -- if he'd stay out of the kitchen. But he won't. He has to give orders to his chefs.
So when an owner says that blowing up a trade for a possible cleanup hitter is "an area where one might say that I have interfered," you just want to slap your forehead until it's black and blue.
What Angelos refuses to grasp, no matter how many times he is told, is that the issue is not the merit of any particular trade, free agent signing or draft pick. The problem, and it is absolutely central to the Orioles' organizational disaster, is that Baltimore is cursed with a billionaire who is constantly injecting himself at the last minute to reverse decisions that have been made after long labor and best judgments by his baseball people.
This is a perfect recipe for dysfunction and the Orioles repeat it year after year. Why do you think so few superior free agents want to sign with Baltimore? Why do others in baseball say that the Orioles try to compete using "Confederate money"? It's because precious few stars are going to pick a town where a 77-year-old plays favorites among his athletes and ultimately makes any goofy decision he wants. No matter how capricious, even if he's comparing home runs to hospital visits.
"It's just another Angelos story to add to the list," one baseball executive said. "He affects everything they do. They may never overcome him. Why would they want a first baseman when they can overpay for middle relievers and have four DHs?"
What elite high school draft pick, choosing between the Orioles and a career in college, wouldn't be swayed to stay in school by the universal mocking of Angelos's reputation for meddling? The grapevine buzz was dwindling about the draft day when Angelos reversed his scouting director and changed the team's top picks at the last minute. Now it'll get new legs.
What rival GM wants to spend his time, especially in trading-deadline situations, working on a complex deal with the Orioles when it's known how often Angelos has erased all the work at the last minute? How will Roberts now feel about Flanagan and Duquette? And how enthusiastic will the Atlanta Braves feel about working up another big deal with Baltimore?
What Orioles star, in his walk year, wants to put his faith in Baltimore's ability to negotiate a new contract during the season? After all, from Rafael Palmeiro to Mike Mussina, the Orioles' owner has dawdled for months on big contracts -- paralyzing all parties -- as his asbestos-wrangling background misinforms him that more time off the clock equals more negotiating leverage.
"I would like to give our fans a winner. That doesn't mean upon that happening that I would then sell the team. I have no real interest in selling the team," Angelos said. Of course, he doesn't. He wants to be vindicated -- on his terms.
"I really want to take away all that criticism you guys are able to lob," Angelos said amiably to reporters Sunday. "It's my way of getting even. Of course, it bothers you. No one likes to be criticized, but you have to deal with it. I am the managing partner, so I have to take the heat. And I make the decisions, so I should take the heat."
Sigh. How sad can it get? For the Orioles, their fans and Angelos, too. He's finally got it half right. He is the person to blame. But he doesn't understand why. His curse is that he wants to win so much, be loved and cheered so much, that he simply can't loosen control. He's the boss, so he thinks he has to rule his own fate, "make the decisions."
But he doesn't have to. And he shouldn't. He's no good at it. That's been proved. It's never going to change. Angelos doesn't have to sell his club. But he has to take his hands off its throat because, as we see again, he's still strangling to death the team he loves.