Strong opinions leaving Angelos on his own among team owners

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An article yesterday incorrectly quoted Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos as saying that his "fellow owners" should be reminded to respect truth and advocate reason. Mr. Angelos actually said "fellow owner" and was referring to Philadelphia Phillies president Bill Giles.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Peek into a ballroom at the next meeting of major-league baseball owners. Scan the crowd of millionaire bankers, cable television executives and pizza-delivery moguls in their wingtips and tailored suits. Then look for Peter G. Angelos, Baltimore lawyer and Orioles owner.

He's the one other owners are working feverishly to avoid.

It's true that Mr. Angelos joined the exclusive fraternity of baseball owners less than a year ago, hardly time enough to have forged close ties with the investors who run the other 27 major-league teams. But the isolation that shrouds him these days has less to do with his tenure than with something else about Mr. Angelos:

He makes trouble for the owners and, worse, makes it publicly.

"I didn't sign on to be silent, to be acquiescent," Mr. Angelos said. "I am no schoolboy, and I'm not a Boy Scout who just joined the troop. If I have something to say, I'll say it."

Much of the hard feelings result from Mr. Angelos' frequent sniping at management's handling of negotiations with striking players.

"I don't mind people voicing opinions, but I don't think the things he has said have been helpful," said Philadelphia Phillies President Bill Giles, who complains that Mr. Angelos' comments give the false impression that the owners are ready to retreat from their hard-line bargaining position.

Can the owners rein in Mr. Angelos?

Mr. Giles doesn't seem concerned.

"We've had these problems before with different people," he said. "You just live with it. You don't put them on [influential] committees."

Many of the owners' decisions are shaped by baseball's Player Relations Committee and Executive Council, powerful groups from which Mr. Angelos has been excluded.

Mr. Angelos rejects suggestions that he has picked a lousy time -- in the midst of collective bargaining -- to become the owners' answer to the Lone Ranger. And he does this with more than a hint of irritation.

"When is the appropriate time to speak one's mind?" he said, his deep voice rising so loudly that a man at an adjoining booth at a local restaurant turns to see what the commotion is about.

"At the three [owners] meetings they have a year? When they get their little PRC together and their little Executive Council together, to the exclusion of the Lone Ranger and Tonto and all the rest of the Indians? Who are they kidding? You mean when I bought this ballclub for the purpose of having Maryland ownership that I signed on to some organization in which what I have to say is to be heard one year from now?"

A loose cannon

Without a doubt, Mr. Angelos has been viewed as management's loose cannon during these negotiations.

In August, shortly before the strike began, Mr. Angelos was sharply critical of the owners' tactical move to withhold a $7.8 million payment to the players' pension plan. (Mr. Angelos warned that the action "sets the stage for further recriminations.")

Last month, Mr. Angelos was one of two owners -- with the Cincinnati Reds' Marge Schott -- who refused to sign a management declaration announcing the cancellation of the World Series. He took issue with a section that blamed the players for refusing to negotiate in good faith.

And on Sept. 24, Mr. Angelos took what might have been the most defiant step of all, meeting privately with players union chief Donald Fehr in Baltimore. Mr. Angelos arranged the meeting without notifying management negotiators, including Acting Commissioner Bud Selig.

How did Mr. Angelos get into this position?

It probably was inevitable, given Mr. Angelos' take-charge personality and his deep reservations about management's negotiating team, led by Mr. Selig and negotiator Richard Ravitch.

Mr. Angelos, a veteran labor lawyer, says he likes both men, while making clear that he believes the owners' strategists are misguided.

Of Mr. Selig, for example, the Orioles owner said: "He is a very successful automobile dealer. What makes him think he has the abilities to do what he is attempting to do here is beyond my comprehension."

Mr. Angelos began to part company with baseball's negotiators at an owners meeting -- one of the first he attended. Mr. Ravitch was making a presentation to the group that showed mounting losses for baseball owners during the 1994 and 1995 seasons. As Mr. Angelos recalls, it was a "most impressive presentation" that had him thoroughly convinced that the owners were right to be pursuing a hard line in their talks with the players.

When Mr. Ravitch finished, Mr. Angelos asked whether the same speech might be made to the players' representatives, too.

As Mr. Angelos recalls, Mr. Ravitch replied: "We can't do that."

"One word led to another, and that's when [Mr. Ravitch] said: 'Rational persuasion will have no place in these negotiations.' "

Mr. Angelos says he was shocked to hear that.

"He was passing himself off as a negotiator, but if he believes that, he's [an] idiot," he said. "If anyone believes you can walk into a meeting and say to the other side, 'I need so-and-so because of this particular condition,' and get it without proving the condition exists . . . That's so illogical. It sounds like the position of a child."

As Mr. Ravitch and Mr. Angelos argued, others in the meeting room looked on in stunned silence.

Mr. Giles remembered the exchange coming "like a flash of lightning."

"We were all in a subdued, reasonable conversation. All of a sudden, [Mr. Angelos] started speaking loudly, saying things that kind of shocked everybody," the Phillies executive recalled. "He was saying, 'Why don't you do it this way?' telling Ravitch how to negotiate."

Another official at the meeting likened Mr. Angelos' aggressive, close questioning of Mr. Ravitch to "a cross-examination," no stretch considering the owner's long career as a trial lawyer.

Mr. Angelos seemed amused by that.

"I didn't stand up. I never left my chair. If they thought that was a cross-examination, they ought to come to a courtroom," Mr. Angelos said. "I know there is a certain way I say things if I am doing them in lawyer's context. But I didn't attack the guy."

Mr. Ravitch declined to speak about the incident, except to say ** that Mr. Angelos "has said some inaccurate things about it."

Mr. Ravitch added: "I represent all 28 owners. I have no personal disagreement with Angelos."

Cast as an outsider

For many owners, the incident was their introduction to Mr. Angelos, and quickly cast him as an outsider. But Mr. Angelos says he has no regrets.

"Am I sorry for taking on [Mr. Ravitch]?" he said, repeating the question. "I'm sorry I didn't totally demolish him."

Mr. Angelos' reward for such outbursts has been a deafening silence. Although he says nine or more owners congratulated him for taking on Mr. Ravitch, few are close to him now. He also has been shut out of any official role in negotiations with the striking players.

Mr. Angelos has yet to be appointed to any of the committees monitoring the negotiations. "They were stacked," he said.

The Orioles owner was passed over when Mr. Selig, among others, named 12 club executives to a group that met several times with union negotiators.

Even getting strike information has been a chore. Mr. Selig has regular conference calls for about 18 teams, most of whom have representatives on the numerous owners' labor committees. The Orioles don't, so Mr. Angelos is forced to rely on sporadic, informal updates.

In small ways, Mr. Angelos has exacted his revenge. When Mr. Selig urged him to join a group of owners coming to Washington to put down a congressional movement to revoke baseball's antitrust exemption, Mr. Angelos declined, saying he was busy at his law office.

Not too busy, though, to hold his clandestine meeting with Mr. Fehr two days later.

Mr. Selig said none of these skirmishes affects his thinking about Mr. Angelos.

"He's opinionated, feisty," said Mr. Selig. "I happen to like him because I am not exactly a shrinking violet myself.

"At least I know where he stands. It's better than a guy sitting at the back of the room, quietly doing who knows what."

Not every owner can view Mr. Angelos in such a benign light. Behind his statements, some see the Orioles owner scrambling to cut his huge financial losses, perhaps at the expense of their clubs. At the very least, they say his moderate position has won points for him with fans, ensuring the crowds will be back to Oriole Park when the games begin.

"By being the softest of the owners, he did a very good thing for his own public relations," Mr. Giles said.

At this, Mr. Angelos bristles.

"When someone says something that has the ring of reason and truth, there must be an ulterior motive," he said coolly. "My fellow owners should be reminded to respect truth and advocate reason."

With the most powerful owners aligned against him, it's hard to see how Mr. Angelos can help broker a settlement with the players.

But Mr. Angelos doesn't see it that way.

"This is not a one-act play," he said. "I will play a role in this eventually, and maybe sooner than one might think."

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