Everybody laughed when Peter Angelos sat down to buy the Baltimore Orioles. Can't be done, everybody with brain cells said. Too late in the game, all the savvy insiders said. So Angelos bought himself his baseball team, and naturally everybody today says they believed in him all along.
Now he wants to bring a National Football League team to Baltimore. Can't be done, all the wise guys start to say. Been down this road before, they say. But then they remember Angelos and his snatch of the Orioles, and everybody isn't laughing any more.
Three thousand miles from here, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Georgia Frontiere, says she's ready to sell a piece of her team. This talk has been in the air for months, but now Frontiere's saying it for public consumption, telling the Los Angeles Times that she's hurting financially and has to consider moving the Rams.
These are the words Angelos has been waiting to hear. He has a small group of investors here with large accumulations of money. Among them is the author Tom Clancy. They wish to buy a substantial interest in the Rams, move them here, and let Frontiere control the team until she doesn't want to do it any more. The two sides have tentatively agreed to meet soon, with only some tricky scheduling standing in the way.
Business people don't think in such romantic terms, but there would be a certain symmetry to such a deal. Frontiere is Carroll Rosenbloom's widow. He swapped his Baltimore Colts to a fellow named Robert Irsay, in return for the Rams. Though it wouldn't be Rosenbloom's team coming home, and certainly wouldn't be the Colts, it would do.
Frontiere is said to share her late husband's taste for the glitter life. This is considered -- brace yourselves -- a blessing for Baltimore. We ain't Los Angeles, but we're half an hour from Washington and just down the road from New York.
When your other suitors are located in places like Memphis, Tenn., San Antonio, St. Louis and Hartford, Conn., Baltimore by the waterfront could look like Paris on the Seine.
Also, it looks better than Laurel in the fall, which is Angelos' other concern. Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Redskins, insists he's headed there, in a move that not only spits in the eye of Washington but also attempts to chill any outside interest in Baltimore.
Both Cooke and Angelos know this. Most Baltimoreans are indifferent to the Redskins, but Cooke feels threatened by football in Baltimore, thinking it could sap advertising and sky box money God intended to be his.
The two men have talked about this, and not very endearingly. Some weeks ago, they met in Rep. Helen Bentley's office, which was mistakenly considered a demilitarized zone. Angelos called Cooke a carpetbagger for trying to come to Maryland. Cooke threatened to buy a baseball team to compete with Angelos' Orioles.
"Good," Angelos said. "I like competition."
"So do I," said Cooke.
"The hell you do," said Angelos. "That's what this move to Laurel's all about. You want a monopoly."
The two men were drinking wine out of plastic cups, but not for long. Cooke reportedly got so upset, he snapped his cup and spilled wine on his expensive suit.
The carpetbagger tag clings. Cooke continues to make gestures toward a move to Laurel, but some have suggested strongly that, should Baltimore get any NFL team, Cooke would forget VTC Laurel and take his team some place like Virginia.
Angelos' people say it shouldn't matter. They think -- and most Baltimoreans agree -- there's room for two teams hereabouts. The Baltimore and D.C. (or Laurel) markets are distinct and self-supporting.
So now begins the negotiating. In Los Angeles, Frontiere's people await offers from several cities. At the Redskins offices, Jack Kent Cooke still dreams of Laurel. In Baltimore, Peter Angelos prepares to fly west.
At that meeting in Rep. Bentley's office, Cooke attempted to intimidate Angelos. Told him he'd been checking him out.
"I know more about you than you think," Cooke said.
"Then you must be very impressed," said Angelos.
Everybody laughed when Angelos said he wanted to buy the Orioles, but he's gotten a whole lot more impressive since then. Soon, we'll find out if Georgia Frontiere is suitably impressed to sell him some of her football team.