Ask Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos why he doesn't want baseball to return to Washington, and it doesn't take long for the exasperation to show.
"This isn't about me," Angelos pleaded in a recent interview, lowering his booming baritone for emphasis. "The facts are speaking here, not the emotions or personal interest."
Coming from Angelos, such an assessment is bound to invite some skepticism. Since he made his first millions as a lawyer handling asbestos cases, Angelos's reputation has rested precisely on his ability to fight -- and fight fiercely -- for his clients' interests and his own.
As a plaintiffs' attorney, owner of a major league baseball team, real estate investor and philanthropist, Angelos has shown a hard-wired determination to get what he wants -- whether that means running to friendly politicians for help, parlaying his business connections or opening his wallet for maximum effect.
It is because of this reputation that Angelos's recent maneuverings on two of the region's biggest controversies -- the future of baseball and the fight to legalize slot-machine gambling in Maryland -- are being scrutinized.
Angelos, who at 75 is still scrappy and confident, said he feels a bit bruised by his portrayal as "an ogre" in the Washington media and said he can be too quick to return a punch. Some of his recent verbal jousting seems to have done him little good, including a comment on a radio program last month that "there are no real baseball fans in D.C."
As Angelos sees it, though, the case for baseball coming to Washington -- or Northern Virginia, for that matter -- should be summarily dismissed. Putting another franchise so close to the Orioles would cut into his team's fan base, particularly in Washington's Maryland suburbs, and siphon off more than half of the Orioles' television revenue, Angelos contended. Neither team, he said, would be in a position to prosper.
"There's no animus directed at Northern Virginia or Washington," said Angelos, who led a partnership in purchasing the Orioles at a 1993 bankruptcy auction for $173 million. "It simply won't work."
Angelos's involvement in Maryland's slots fight has been more peripheral but still has sparked plenty of intrigue.
In June, Angelos's wife and two sons struck a tentative deal to purchase Rosecroft Raceway, a financially struggling harness-racing track in Prince George's County, for $13 million. It is widely considered a prime venue for slot machines if they are legalized by the Maryland General Assembly.
Angelos said his role has been limited to providing unpaid counsel to his family.
Under Major League Baseball rules, Angelos is not permitted to have an ownership stake in a gambling enterprise. Yet Rosecroft's owners and leading slots advocates in the legislature have openly courted his involvement, hopeful that his clout would help break a two-year stalemate over gambling.
Angelos said he harbors real doubts about the wisdom of using slots proceeds to fund government programs, but he added, "You know, I could sit around and philosophize, moralize and otherwise, but this is happening."
In recent weeks, however, the prospects for an agreement among legislative leaders on a slots bill have continued to dim, and the Rosecroft deal may be falling apart as well. Angelos confirmed last week that negotiations over his family's purchase of the track are in a "suspended state."
He said he remains convinced that slots will come to Maryland within a couple of years. But if the Rosecroft deal falls through, Angelos said, that might very well be the end of his family's involvement.
That is just one of the uncertainties facing Angelos -- some of which he discussed more openly than others during the course of two interviews at his Baltimore law firm.
Angelos was adamant about his desire to remain a baseball owner. He said he had no interest in a rumored deal that would provide compensation to his franchise if baseball decides to move the Montreal Expos to Washington. And despite his advancing years, Angelos said he and his sons have never really discussed whether the Orioles should remain in the family beyond his tenure.
Angelos came of age in a blue-collar neighborhood of East Baltimore after his parents arrived from Greece, nearly penniless, when Angelos was a young boy. A tavern that his father would come to own catered to steel and refinery workers from the neighborhood. Angelos credited his father for instilling his work ethic, which associates said still keeps Angelos at his law-office desk past 9 o'clock most weeknights and routinely brings him in on Saturdays.
After working his way through law school, Angelos started representing the steelworkers and other laborers around whom he had grown up. During the 1970s, many of those workers began getting sick, the result of years of breathing asbestos particles from building insulation and elsewhere.
Angelos came to represent thousands of people diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses, and the cases made him rich. He is said to have collected more than $1 billion for his clients and their survivors by the early 1990s, taking a cut of several hundred million. The money allowed Angelos to purchase the Orioles and to buy the 22-story downtown tower to which he moved his law firm. It is one of several Baltimore properties Angelos owns.
As Angelos's wealth has grown, so too has his reputation as a philanthropist. There was the time in 1998, for example, when a friend came to him looking for suggestions on how to raise $1.5 million in seed money for a new African American museum. Angelos wrote a check for the entire amount the next day. Numerous other acts of generosity have gone unheralded.
Early in his career, during the 1960s, Angelos served a single term on the Baltimore City Council and made an unsuccessful bid for mayor. He has not run for public office since but has shown a knack for wielding political influence.
That may be Angelos's greatest asset in his fight to keep baseball from Washington, and it helps explain why slots proponents have sought him as an ally.
During one interview for this article, Angelos sat in a conference room at his law office that overlooks a building once occupied by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. Shortly after Angelos bought his tower, he learned that the utility planned to build a water-chilling and furnace plant on the site that would have included an unsightly 15-story iron cylinder.
Angelos turned to City Hall, arguing that the plant should be banned under a decades-old "urban renewal" designation adopted when he sat on the City Council. He prevailed, in part by volunteering $3 million of his own money to help Johns Hopkins University take over the building.
John Pica, a former state senator who now serves as a lobbyist for Angelos, remembered his first contact with Angelos in Annapolis.
In 1990, Angelos wanted to remove a provision from a state law that set a 20-year time limit on lawsuits against builders, architects and engineers. The provision was standing in the way of millions of dollars in asbestos-related lawsuits. The proposal drew hearty opposition from business interests and became the most heavily lobbied bill of the session.
Angelos was "a one-man army," explaining the issue in painstaking detail to anyone who would listen and staying late into the evenings to catch legislators in more relaxed settings, Pica said.
The bill ultimately passed, only to be vetoed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D). By that time, however, a court ruling had allowed Angelos to move his cases forward. The fight foreshadowed other legislation in Annapolis that critics came to deride as "Angelos bills."
In 1996, for example, Angelos successfully lobbied legislators to add four Baltimore judgeships when clogged dockets were delaying asbestos lawsuits. The move thwarted the will of the state's highest-ranking judge, whose statistical analysis of judicial needs had guided legislators' decisions for the previous 17 years.
"He and the judge got in a pushing contest . . . and Mr. Angelos prevailed," recalled Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) with a hint of admiration.
As part of his lobbying effort that year, Angelos brought the Orioles' famous iron-man shortstop, Cal Ripken Jr., to Annapolis, where senators and delegates lined up for photos at a reception.
Not everyone approved of Angelos's tactics.
"What we have in this state is one lawyer who, whenever he gets a decision he doesn't like in the courts, can come here and have that decision overturned by the legislature," then-Del. Robert L. Flanagan (R-Howard), the House minority whip, complained at one point.
Angelos would face his fiercest resistance in Annapolis a few years later when he sought to collect a fee for his law firm's representation of Maryland in litigation against the tobacco industry. Angelos successfully bid in 1996 for a contract that called for his firm to keep 25 percent of money Maryland recovered to help treat Medicaid recipients made ill by smoking. Victory was far from assured, and Angelos's firm spent several million dollars upfront.
Maryland's legal action was ultimately preempted by a national tobacco settlement that steered more than $4 billion to the state. Angelos wanted his 25 percent fee, but state leaders rebuffed him. After an ugly fight, in March 2002, Angelos settled for $150 million, slightly more than recommended by an arbitration panel that reviewed the case without Angelos's participation.
In an interview, John Coale, a lawyer involved in the exploratory stages of national tobacco litigation, accused Angelos of displaying "unimaginable greed" during the episode.
"Peter Angelos . . . didn't do anything exceptional," said Coale, who was prepared to testify against Angelos in the dispute with the state. "I think his conduct was outrageous. . . . No other lawyer in the country did that."
Angelos said the dispute was a contract fight in which "the state didn't want to honor its contract. Obviously, I was displeased by what they did, to put it mildly."
The fight soured Angelos's relationships with several Democratic officials, including then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
His relationship with Glendening's successor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), has proved surprisingly saccharine. Over the past decade, Angelos became a prolific financial contributor to Democratic candidates and party committees, with donations exceeding $1 million in some election cycles.
Shortly after Ehrlich's 2002 election, Angelos and the new governor dined in Baltimore. Angelos said his primary goal was to pitch efforts to revitalize Baltimore's West Side, an initiative that has since won millions in state funding. Angelos later contributed to Ehrlich's reelection race, though he cautioned against reading too much into that, saying he remains an "ardent Democrat."
"He's a very nice local person," Angelos said of Ehrlich. "And he will certainly hear you out. I think he's doing his best to help the city."
Some suspect that Angelos has been trying to angle his way into any largesse that will materialize if Maryland legalizes slots.
Miller, the Senate president, said that, if nothing else, Angelos's involvement would make slots more palatable to some. "Mr. Angelos does things in a big way," Miller said. Rosecroft "would be a first-class venue."
Not all legislators consider Angelos's involvement helpful.
"Some might think it's a good idea, but it just makes it tougher," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), the leading opponent of Ehrlich's slots plan. "Anybody with access that nobody else has is going to have a big spotlight on them."
Angelos's personal appearances in Annapolis have tailed off in recent years, though he employs several lobbyists to represent his varied interests. His clout in Baltimore remains substantial. Last September, Baltimore magazine put Angelos atop its list of the city's 50 most powerful people, ahead of Ehrlich and Mayor Martin O'Malley.
Angelos's relationships with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and his fellow owners are likely to prove pivotal to baseball's future in the region. Baseball has charged a committee with examining several possible sites to move the Montreal Expos.
Selig will make the decision, which must be approved by three-quarters of the owners.
Angelos allowed that his relationship with his colleagues is "cordial" and "friendly." But he balked when asked to elaborate whether that might help him in this process.
"I could make some self-serving statements to what I believe my relationship is with fellow owners," Angelos said. "But I'm not going to do that."
Alan M. Rifkin, a lawyer for the Orioles, said Angelos has seen little need to lobby fellow owners on the Expos' relocation. "They all know his position," Rifkin said. Regardless, Rifkin said, he is certain baseball will make the best decision for baseball -- not Peter Angelos.
Schaefer, the former Maryland governor, is among those who believe Angelos gets a bad rap in Washington for his adamant defense of his franchise.
"He's misunderstood," Schaefer said. "He'd be the first person lined up to bring baseball to Washington if it weren't for his business interests."