BALTIMORE ORIOLES owner Peter Angelos is beginning to sound, in the statements of his territorial ambitions, like the American League's answer to Alexander the Great. Mr. Angelos apparently would lay claim to all baseball fans in an area stretching from somewhere south of Philadelphia to the northern outskirts of Fredericksburg, and covering as well various populated lands to the west. In a recent interview with Thomas Heath of The Post, he said that no other baseball team should be allowed within that vast region -- specifically in the Washington area -- lest it do irreparable harm to the Orioles. Asked whether he would accept payment of, say, $100 million to compensate him for any damage a Washington franchise might do to his club, Mr. Angelos answered, "We are not prepared or able to surrender our rights no matter how much money is paid for it."
Mr. Angelos's expansive view of his "rights" -- which are nowhere codified or explained -- is made possible by the cartel structure of Major League Baseball and the power of its commissioner, Bud Selig, with whom the Orioles' owner is on good terms these days. The team owners have frozen baseball in place. No franchise has changed cities in more than 30 years -- since Washington's Senators were spirited away by an itinerant owner with financial problems. A number of teams are in trouble, however, especially the Montreal Expos, who have been playing to millions of empty seats for a number of seasons and are long overdue for a move.
The greater Washington area now has a population of more than 5 million, a large (but mostly frustrated) interest in baseball and three groups of financially qualified would-be owners. There is no reason for the capital area's continuing exclusion from baseball other than Mr. Angelos's fears about the future of the Orioles and his ability to convince the commissioner and some of his fellow owners of his need for protection.
In truth, Mr. Angelos and those who work for him probably have done more damage to Orioles' attendance than the presence of a club in the Washington area ever could. But in any event, the area encompassed by his territorial claims is prosperous and populous enough to support two teams. For Commissioner Selig and the owners, this is a matter in which protecting one owner from competition -- and from his own mistakes in the baseball business -- should no longer take precedence over advancing the game's best interests.