Ever since the late 1970s when a flood of rookies such as Eddie Murray, Scott McGregor and Rick Dempsey arrived at Memorial Stadium, baseball fans in the Washington area have gotten enormous pleasure from the Baltimore Orioles.
Not the Washington Orioles, mind you. They've never been that. From the first day, they have been a mere substitute for a real Washington team. But that doesn't negate the fun they've provided, the memories we value or the attachment we feel. Nobody can erase Cal Ripken's streak or the World Series in '79 and '83 or the playoff runs in '96 and '97 from our minds.
However, whether we choose to add more fresh Orioles images in the future is quite another matter.
Peter Angelos might want to remember that before he continues to spit in our faces while reaching around to stab us in the backs. The belligerent Orioles owner should ask himself how we will react to his bad faith. After all the cash Washington fans have put in his team's pockets, this is our repayment? Who but this litigious bully would try to hijack the entire nation's capital when he has no shred of a legal claim?
Baseball bylaws are specific. Angelos knew the deal when he bought the Orioles in '92. He could block an American League team from moving too near his town, but not a National League club. Everybody knew it then and knows it now. That's why the sport sits in stunned disbelief as Angelos -- despite enormously generous indemnification offers to which he has no technical claim -- sits on the floor screaming "No, no, no" over a decision that's both good for baseball and outside his control.
In his little B&O Warehouse world, Angelos has acquired the demeanor of a rich provincial liege who has slipped into a habit of self-delusion. In Annapolis politics and tort litigation he still calls the shots. But, when he finds himself in a larger sphere than Bal'mer, he blinks as though the light seems foreign. Who are these people and why are they telling me: "You don't get it, Peter. You don't get your way this time. The game's over."
Many of us are watching. And deciding whether the actions of a peevish egotist with too many millions and too little decency will alienate us permanently from a baseball team that has provided us with so much pleasure.
The odd creature we see before us now is a man who has no claim on an inch of Washington territory or more than 1/29th of the purchase price of the Expos. Yet he may already have disdained a nine-figure ransom to bless the Expos' move to Washington. His partners in baseball's monopoly will go to great lengths to keep the peace and cover each other's economic backs. They would want to be compensated if their situations were reversed. So they're trying to "do right" by Angelos.
But even Angelos's fellow owners are now stunned by his obduracy. It's been so long since anybody told Angelos where to head that he doesn't know how to cope with it. If he's beaten just this once, after all his asbestos windfalls and mind-boggling tobacco settlements, is his run over? Will others in his mini-empire want to challenge him next? Scary psychological business.
However, it's not our problem that Peter must now come to terms with peers who've finally told him to clam up and listen for a change. We have other issues. Assuming the Expos actually arrive next season, will those of us who live somewhere between Camden Yards and RFK Stadium decide to split our loyalty and our cash?
Will we see the attempted reconstruction of the Orioles and the rebirth of Washington baseball as complementary pleasures? Or, largely due to Angelos's bad faith in these crucial days, will we steel ourselves and cut the Orioles out of our baseball hearts?
At the moment, the balance between residual affection for the Orioles and contempt for Angelos's behavior is precarious. Each day that Angelos stamps his foot like a rich brat he loses more of the "swing" fans between Baltimore and Washington that he claims to crave so desperately. And he not only loses us as ticket buyers, but as loyal TV viewers as well.
Angelos's choice now is whether to end the battle with class. Oh, Peter can do it. His intelligence and sense of self-interest are so sharp that for once he may see the wisdom of good grace. Besides, he can seek his own counsel as to his legal standing: He has no case. For once, Angelos needs to get with baseball's program, not just his own.
Here's a proper script -- a gift from someone who's enjoyed your team for 30 years:
"I've fought for the interests of my franchise and my partners as hard as I can. Anyone would do the same. But the best interests of baseball come before any one team. Moving the Expos to Washington provides the greatest economic good to the whole sport and returns baseball to a great city and neighbor. I am satisfied with the settlement my fellow owners have given the Orioles. It will help us field competitive teams in the future. I hope our loyal fans from Washington will still support the Orioles. We wish good luck to the Senators or Nats or whatever you infernally persistent people decide to call your team. And, some day, I hope we get to beat your brains out in the first Baltimore-Washington Parkway World Series."