The Rev. Constantine Munios doesn't exactly swear at his car radio -- he is a Greek Orthodox priest, after all -- but there are times he will start to argue with it as he is driving around the streets of Baltimore. The voices from his dashboard sound so hostile toward Peter Angelos; Munios wants to tell them they are wrong, explain to them, shake them.
He wants to tell them that the Baltimore Orioles' owner is not a bad man. He doesn't stand alone in that belief, but his allies are dwindling. "I get so frustrated with people," said Munios, who has been a pastor to Angelos for about 26 years. "If a player leaves, he gets blamed for it. If they don't win, he gets blamed. All he wants is what is best for that team. People don't seem to know what he is really all about."
How could they? Compared with Angelos, "Ulysses" is an easy read. There is the Angelos who has run off some of the most talented executives in baseball. There is the Angelos who recently added pitcher Mike Mussina to the list of beloved players who have walked out the clubhouse door insulted by their contract negotiations and perplexed by the team's record (152-172 the past two years). And there is the Angelos, in a full-color illustration in the current edition of Sports Illustrated, literally choking the Bird.
Then again, there is the Angelos who loves the city of Baltimore and has lived and died with the Orioles for decades. There is the Angelos who refused to field replacement players during the 1994 strike, a bold move in his first full year of ownership. There is the Angelos who still, despite colossal failures, seems willing to invest his money into one of the highest payrolls in baseball.
It's a pattern that checkers his life even outside the game: He is a 72-year-old lawyer who crusades for the rights of the underprivileged while also being a fierce protector of his own interests. He gives a colossal amount of money to charity, yet he is battling with the state of Maryland over the size of a legal fee as well as the Orioles' leasing terms at Camden Yards.
As the Orioles prepare to open spring training Wednesday with a clouded strategy for rebounding from last year's disastrous season, only one thing about the man piloting through the haze seems to be clear: No matter what your opinion of Peter Angelos is, you are probably wrong.
"He's an interesting man, and he's had an extraordinary career," Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig said. "He's got a lot of different sides to him, and while he and I started off on a rather tense basis because of the labor dispute, as you get to know him you see there's a lot more there."
Dedication to Ideas and Work
With Angelos, the prism of observation was distorted early -- even his name is something of a construction. Born to Greek immigrants living in blue-collar Pittsburgh, he was known as George Angelos until being hospitalized with severe appendicitis at age 10. When doctors told his devoutly religious mother, Frances, that young George wasn't expected to survive the infection, she promised God that if her son lived, she would dedicate his soul to the Virgin Mary by changing his name.
By the time Frances' boy was healthy a few months later, he was being called Peter, although his old personality had emerged from the hospital fully intact. From an early age, Angelos was a battler -- both literally, boxing with the Baltimore Athletic Association after his family moved to Maryland a year after his illness, and figuratively. Around his new Highlandtown neighborhood, Angelos was known for matching wits with anyone who crossed him and for imitating his father's tremendous work ethic.
As far as Angelos's son, John, is concerned, those early experiences shaped Angelos, "giving him qualities of dedication to his ideas and to his work that run very deep."
"Pete was always very determined, and you always had a sense about him that he was working on something," confirms Don Irvine, the former president of a Baltimore steelworkers union that Angelos began representing after putting himself through law school at age 30. "He'd hang around with the guys, but he'd go work the telephone from time to time too. He was always making sure something was happening."
Decades later, that work ethic still defines Angelos, as does his penchant for combat. Even Angelos's friends say he is often not happy unless he has a cause to rail against, and since Angelos rose to prominence first as a Baltimore politician, then as a labor and injury claims lawyer and now, most notably, as a baseball owner, many of his skirmishes have played out on the public stage.
At the moment, Angelos, who chose not to be interviewed for this story, is fighting with the Maryland Stadium Authority over what he perceives as inequalities between the Orioles' stadium lease and that of the Baltimore Ravens. He is fighting with the Maryland General Assembly over the size of the legal fees he will collect for his part in the state's $4 billion settlement with the tobacco companies -- Angelos says he is contractually entitled to nearly a quarter of the money, the state wants to pay him only half of that.
Last year, there was a skirmish with the Justice Department, which examined the Orioles' policy regarding their scouting and signing players who have defected from Cuba. In response, Angelos said, "We do not encourage players to defect," although he kept open the possibility of the Orioles scouting a player once he has left the island. The Justice Department's interest has since cooled, but Angelos is still being criticized by Cuban exile groups as being pro-Castro after orchestrating a series of games between the Orioles and a Cuban national team in 1999.
On the local front, Angelos has opposed groups trying to bring a baseball team to either Washington or Northern Virginia, saying that another team in the region would substantially dilute the Orioles' fan base. His critics, however, maintain he is doing a good job of that all by himself. Baltimore started last season with its fifth manager in seven years and its fourth general manager in six years, and Angelos's record of holding on to star players isn't much better.
In each arena, Angelos has left behind a wake of condemnation. Still, there has rarely been a time when he has acted on anything but an unshakeable belief in his own judgment.
"When he does something, he believes in his soul that it is absolutely right, and he remains steadfast that he is going to fight for those convictions," said Joe Foss, the Orioles' vice chairman. "He recognizes that there will be significant criticism, and even so goes with what he believes. I really can't say I've met anyone more committed to his beliefs than Peter."
Mixed Success in Baseball
That ability to stay true to himself, no matter what, served Angelos well in the 1980s and early '90s as he fought through the asbestos litigation that would eventually build the bulk of his wealth. Angelos had taken the cases of Baltimore shipyard workers when it looked as if they had little chance of recouping damages from the asbestos-related illnesses they had contracted, but after several trials and appeals -- and several friends advising him to give up and settle along the way -- he collected more than a billion dollars for his clients, taking a cut of several hundred million for himself.
When Angelos headed the group that bought the Orioles in 1993, he promised to bring that same determination to baseball. Instead of a similar payoff in the ensuing years, his headstrong methods have more often resulted in an unhappy brew of hurt feelings and poor results.
Most recently, the person caught in the mix was Mussina, who this offseason gave up his 10-year affiliation with Baltimore to sign a six-year, $88.5 million contract with the New York Yankees. Angelos categorized the pitcher's departure as strictly a matter of money -- baseball salaries have spun out of control, and he simply would not match the New York deal by promising to pay a pitcher until his 38th birthday with a contract worth more than half of what the entire franchise cost eight years ago.
To some, the position seemed reasonable, echoing the dire proclamations of even Angelos's critics, who agree that the unrestrained spending spreading among owners is threatening the health of the game. As with so many things with Angelos, however, there is another way to look at things.
According to Mussina, his flight to the Yankees had very little to do with money. Instead, he said on the day he signed his new contract that the Yankees "seemed like they cared more," noting the way Manager Joe Torre and several players had telephoned asking him to come to New York. He said it was a far cry from his contact with the Orioles, who, according to several sources, were consistently giving Mussina a hard time about how big a salary he wanted -- even though he had initially agreed to re-sign for substantially less last season.
By the time Mussina did bolt, Angelos predictably collected much of the blame, although in this instance, more people were upset than just the sports-radio callers that so anger Munios. "Letting Mike Mussina go really sent a message to all the players that Baltimore is going in a rough direction" one prominent agent said. Even though the Orioles were able to sign players to replace Mussina, none are big stars, and the message around the league stuck.
"You don't chase away a number one starter who wants to stay with the club," the agent said. "Baltimore used to be able to get players on the strength of the reputation of the team. Now their reputation is such that if a player has equal deals on the table, he's not picking the Orioles."
The Mussina decision also stirred the ripple of discontent that has been growing among Orioles fans, with ticket sales for this season 'down a little,' according to team spokesman Bill Stetka. Still, while total attendance at Camden Yards has fallen each of the last three seasons, Angelos told The Post recently that he still expects 3 million people to pass through the ballpark's gates for the seventh straight year.
"As far as I know, ticket sales are okay -- not good, but okay," he said. "I believe the team will perform substantially better than it did last year, based on what our professional baseball people are predicting. We'll do over 3 million in attendance despite the problems we had last season, and if we could eliminate the negative diatribes flowing from the media, we'd probably do 3.5 million."
Often heard railing about negative news coverage, Angelos actually spent many years as a media and union darling after first buying the team, acquiring it from out-of-town ownership, and then refusing to go along with the rest of the league in fielding replacement players during the 1994 strike. Over the next few years, the memory of Angelos's strong stand, along with an avid fan base and a beautiful stadium, brought all kinds of talent to an Orioles squad that reached the American League Championship Series in 1996 and '97.
The luster, however, only lasted so long.
Angelos started bickering with several of his employees, most notably manager Davey Johnson, who left the team on the day he was named manager of the year, and general manager Frank Wren, who went through a bitter arbitration to gain about $400,000 in severance after less than a year of service. In some cases, the arguments were over differences in vision; in others, those who left felt they never had enough control to properly do their jobs.
Others just felt they were constantly being misled -- for Wren, the sensation started the very day he came to Baltimore in 1998.
"There was this whole image of normalcy, and he gives you a hard pitch, that 'we've been waiting for a guy like you and we're really going to make this work,' but then it turns around pretty quick," he said. "For me it was on the flight home from my [introductory] press conference. There were things I agreed to when I took the job, and then all of the sudden the Orioles wanted me to say different things to the media. Right away a red flag went up that this was going to be a problem."
Johnson was also disenchanted. "I think when you hire intelligent, qualified people in the baseball business, if you want them to be successful, it's best to let them do the job," he told the Seattle Times last year. "Angelos didn't do that. He wanted to do the job."
Still, to Angelos, the way he has run through staff -- including broadcast superstar Jon Miller -- is about more than just his strong personality conflicting with the people he has hired. In Wren's case, Angelos was particularly agitated with the way the general manager had ordered a team plane to take off, even though Orioles legend Cal Ripken called ahead to say he was going to be a few minutes late.
To Wren, it was a matter of discipline -- if you miss the team plane, you have to travel on your own -- but to Angelos it was a matter of loyalty. If Cal calls, you don't turn your back on him. "Peter's very blunt, and he doesn't tolerate a lot of nonsense," Selig said. "He and I have talked a lot about this, but in the end, while people can quarrel with the individual decisions he's made, he definitely has the best interests of the Baltimore Orioles at heart."
"Some people tend to get bogged down in the details and the front-office intrigue, and I think they miss that the original intention of how the ownership group viewed the place of the Orioles as an institution in the community," said John Angelos, who is also the team's executive vice president. "That was really their motivation in that they invested in the team, not anything more sinister, and while we've certainly made our mistakes, we've been unjustly criticized as well."
Questions About Communication
Aside from extended chatter about his people skills, the biggest criticisms of Angelos in baseball circles center on the lack of communication that can sometimes stifle a franchise that relies heavily on instructions from the top. As Wren explained, "overall, decision-making within the organization is a long, arduous process, and it bogs down everything from buying paper clips to signing free agents."
It's a missile that has long been launched at Angelos, who in the past has notoriously left people such as Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Brooks Robinson waiting for return phone calls that never came. Even when he does make time for people, several former employees said, he often keeps them waiting for hours after scheduled appointments and then fields frequent interruptions once meetings start.
"I didn't have those situations because I wasn't really there for long [under Angelos], but communication is a challenge for every owner and general manager, and it's hard if an owner is pulled in a lot of different directions," said Texas Rangers General Manager Doug Melvin, who was with the Orioles when Angelos took over. "In some cases, people have said they've had problems with that with Peter, but I know he's an incredibly hard worker, and people have incredible respect for him as a lawyer. It's just that baseball is constantly demanding your attention."
Those who know him well say they are amazed at how hard Angelos works, managing not only the Orioles and a very successful law practice -- he is the only partner in a firm that reportedly bills about $15 million a year -- but also spearheading a substantial redevelopment effort in downtown Baltimore. Foss, a former bank president who notes that he has never had trouble getting Angelos on the phone, said recently, "I've never seen anyone who works longer or harder than him."
In addition, Angelos is active in the politics of Maryland's state legislature and is one of the Democratic party's biggest contributors, both locally and nationally. Although he no longer personally makes appearances in Annapolis, he is still involved in initiatives many state legislators simply refer to as "Angelos bills" because they are pushed by those politicians he supports financially and often benefit him directly.
Angelos has applied similar kinds of lobbying tactics trying to keep baseball out of Washington and Northern Virginia, circulating studies that project the Orioles losing more than 20 percent of their fan base if another team is moved into the area. So far, the tactics have worked, although Virginia Baseball Authority Executive Director Gabe Paul Jr. said his group is conducting a study of its own.
"I hear from other owners that Angelos is not very popular, but that no one wants to destroy a good franchise, so they are being careful," Paul said. "There is also a concern that he'll sue them, because he's a very litigious type of person. What he doesn't get by virtue of reason, he gets by a type of intimidation."
What Paul may see as self-serving, however, Selig said he sees as Angelos merely looking out for the best interests of baseball by making sure one of the league's best markets doesn't disintegrate. "While I probably wouldn't have thought this possible five or six years ago," Selig said, "Peter has been remarkably cooperative and often willing to sacrifice his own franchise's interest in the interest of the game."
It all depends, it seems, on how you look at him. The Angelos that Selig describes is compassionate while being analytical, lively while still showing patience. He's a different man than the one described by one of Angelos's peers in the Baltimore legal community, someone "who doesn't allow for disagreement, who develops jealousies quickly and cannot shoulder responsibility for his mistakes so he keeps making them again and again."
Even that is a different man than the Angelos that Munios knows, the Angelos who in December became the first person to donate $1 million to Baltimore's United Way chapter, the Angelos who put up most of the money for an elevator in his church so that the elderly and disabled parishioners can get around more easily.
"He's a wonderful, wonderful guy -- it's that he tries hard at everything, and he's very passionate, sometimes too much for his own good," said Irvine, the former union president. "Once you get to know Pete and know him well, then you understand. He's just a very different kind of person."