By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, April 17, 2007 10:31 AM
For most of Peter Angelos's reign of error as the meddling owner of the Baltimore Orioles, Nestor "Nasty" Aparicio has been a vocal and often acerbic critic of the team and particularly its management.
In years past, Aparicio's major forum was his daily sports talk show on WNST radio, a 5,000-watt radio station that gives listeners all local sports talk all the time from sun-up to sun-down seven days a week. The station, now owned by Aparicio, has a loyal following (even if it is ranked 29th in listeners among 30 stations in the Baltimore market rated by Arbitron) and also produces a lively daily web site (WNST.net) almost completely devoted to local Baltimore sports.
Aparicio ended his daily talk show on the station two years ago, ostensibly to devote most of his time to the business side of the operation, but he still makes regular on-air appearances and writes columns and blogs for the station's web site.
Last year, in the midst of a ninth straight losing season and much to the dismay of Orioles management, Aparicio also took it upon himself to lead a "Free The Birds" protest urging Angelos to sell the team. Plugged incessantly on his own station, it involved hundreds of fans going to Camden yards for a game against the Detroit Tigers on Sept., 21 then walking out en masse in the fourth inning. Aparicio says 2,000 fans participated; the Orioles say it was more like 1,000, but the protest got plenty of local and national coverage, much to Aparicio's delight.
Club management clearly was not amused. Angelos, in fact, was quoted at the time describing Aparicio as "a very unimportant person who has delusions of grandeur."
From 1986 to 2004, Aparicio, the nephew of former Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio and a former reporter for the old Baltimore News American and later, the Baltimore Sun, said he was credentialed as a member of the Baltimore media to cover the team. He said he grew so disgusted with what he was seeing on and off the field; he did not even bother to apply for a press pass for each of the last two years.
"I didn't want to be around those people," he said. "I've loved the Orioles my whole life, but I just didn't want to be over there. Now they keep saying they're making changes, they're getting better, they're trying to make things right. I said to myself if they're treating people better, maybe it's time to go back to the ball park again."
So this year, Aparicio applied for media credentials for himself and his staff.
The Orioles have granted eight WNST employees media credentials to cover the team and even threw in a couple of precious parking passes. But Aparicio was denied a press pass. If he wants to go to the ball park, he'll have to buy a ticket just like everyone else. And now, Nasty is mad as hell and vowing not to take it any more, even threatening possible legal action against the team ownership he loves to hate.
Though it's virtually impossible to listen to Aparicio on his radio station very far outside the Baltimore beltway, I've been aware of him for years, mostly through a long stream of letters, press releases and e-mails he used to send urging me to write about his talk show.
People who know Aparicio far better than I do say he has always been a shameless and relentless self-promoter who really can get down and very dirty on and off the air with anyone who might happen to disagree with him.
At the same time, they also are in general agreement that he is among the most passionate fans they've ever known, particularly when it comes to his home town teams.
"I've been telling the truth about the baseball team for years," Aparicio said. "I live two blocks from the ball park. I've seen what their mismanagement has done to the team. Nobody goes, and I've seen what it does to businesses downtown, the bars, the restaurants, the hotels. The city is struggling. Downtown is struggling. The Orioles could really help that situation, but not the way they're running that organization."
Several members of the Baltimore media interviewed on background for this piece also indicated there is little question in their minds that the Orioles' decision to deny Aparicio a press credential clearly smacks of payback, mostly stemming from last year's September protest as well as his countless other transgressions aimed toward the team.
Greg Garber, the Orioles director of communications, said he preferred not to comment on Aparicio's situation, other than to say that "his station received the same number of credentials this year that they got last year."
Another source in the organization indicated that the Orioles do not consider Aparicio, as the station's principal owner, a member of the working press and insisted his protest and his long-time anti-Angelos stance was not a factor in denying him a credential, even if that's how it looks.
The Baltimore Ravens, on the other hand, credential Aparicio, and he is a regular presence at games and the team's training facility during the season, with Ravens coaches and players often appearing with him and other WNST hosts on a wide variety of shows. In fact, Aparicio says the Orioles are the only team ever to deny him a credential in his 20-plus years in the media business.
"I write a column, I still blog, I go on the air, I'm still an active member of the media," Aparicio said. "I've never been turned down for a credential in my life. They keep telling me I'm not a legitimate member of the media. But they're the only ones. Here's the other thing. If they can pull my credential, who's next? I've had a bunch of calls and e-mails from guys covering the team telling me to keep fighting, because we can't."
Clearly though, this is a fight the Orioles easily could have and certainly should have avoided. No matter how much they deny it, barring Aparicio from the press box and access to the players and coaches looks very much like sheer vindictiveness. Even worse, it gives one of the team's more vocal critics an even larger megaphone over the local airwaves to point out management shortcomings and make the club look petty and small-minded.
In response to a recent Baltimore Sun blog on the Aparicio situation, a reader calling himself CJ may well have said it best.
"There is a heavy-handed and an even-handed way to treat the media," he wrote. "Teams should always strive to stay above the fray and work behind the scenes, even when their critics are at the front door in public."
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at Badgerlen@hotmail.com or Badgerlen@aol.com.