In Angelos, Baltimore has a man very rich in dollars and sense


No duplicity or trickery. Loyal to friends and causes. Willing to take chances when those of timidity back away. Peter Angelos, a power hitter in the Baltimore community, is a man of astonishing drive, drawing on a seemingly unending supply of energy, working 12-hour days, with more balls in the air, in and out of baseball, than a circus juggler.

This is his fifth season as owner of the Orioles, a time to recount and make assessments. Ups and downs. Positives and negatives. What comes into clear perspective is the man himself. Opinionated. Sincere. Honest. Like him or not, be you friend or foe, he's devoid of hyperbole. A throwback, in a way, to a long-lost era when men of conviction were among us who didn't mind standing up to take positions that might be unpopular with the masses.

Has he been good for Baltimore and its franchise? Without a doubt. There has never been an Orioles owner with such an obsessive desire to win. He stacked so much money into the salary structure of 1998, a total of $69 million, that he achieved the highest payroll in major-league history. Yet results so far haven't produced anything perceived as value received. When the team was floundering and in last place, he said, "I wasn't bothered in the least. I view baseball as a human institution filled with successes and failures. There are times that no matter how hard you work, you can't be effective." That's an Angelos the public doesn't know.

When well-meaning advisers on the sidewalk were telling him he ought to consider a change in managers and bring back Davey Johnson, he replied, "I would if he could pitch." The Orioles' troubles, an aging team losing both foot and arm speed, were compounded by losing three starting pitchers to injuries. As for present manager Ray Miller, Angelos remains a believer in his ability.

"I'm confident he will get the maximum out of the talent," Angelos said. "He has integrity, and the players know that. He will listen to a lot of viewpoints and make his own decision. I measure him as a solid man, a good handler of personnel. I believe he'll be effective when he has a team that hasn't been decimated by injuries." He won't even mildly suggest the players he invested in with lavish contracts have let him down, realizing that in professional sports you don't always get what you've paid for in on-field performance.

"Learning how to lose hasn't been easy," he says. "It's a fundamental fact of baseball life that you're lucky to win six out of 10. You're almost assured of losing near 40 percent of your games. I guess some people think I'm an irascible SOB, but I have never backed away from my beliefs."

Angelos absolutely exemplifies what his former law professor, Francis Valle, said about him when he emerged as the new owner of the Orioles. "He's smart, he's tough and won't back down," was the assessment Valle offered. "A lot of lawyers could have done what he's done in taking on major lawsuits, but they didn't have the courage to try."

In case you haven't been paying attention, Angelos doesn't bow to convention or staid protocol, preferring to chart his own course and, most of the time, working and thriving on an 8 a.m.-to-8 p.m. schedule in his law office and staying in touch with the baseball operation. "Ownership does have its prerogatives," he says and there's no doubt he fulfills them.

He entered the baseball industry as a neophyte, drawn by his financial ability to see his city had a hometown guardian of its most historic franchise, a team that had been known and revered as the Baltimore Orioles for more than a century. The cost for fulfilling the objective of owning them came to $173 million, a then record price for a professional team.

Neither Angelos nor any of his associates has taken profit from the operation. "Not one nickel," he says. His enjoyment is derived from the challenge of the competition and the gnawing pursuit of a world championship.

"The reward, in a sense, comes from seeing how the city and entire state becomes involved with the wins and losses," he says. "It's enjoyable to me to realize thousands of people you never knew or got to meet are tied to a team with one of the great names in sports, the Orioles. My compensation is witnessing the fans' approval, of when they display pure excitement and exhilaration the young, the old, the in-between."

In addition to a baseball team, he has a string of thoroughbred horses that race in Maryland. Any correlation between the two sports? It's as if he has been pondering that same question. "An identical attitude prevails in both places. By that I mean, an owner is supposed to go to the sale, buy the horses, pay the trainer, take care of any other necessary expenses incurred, be responsible for all the feed and medical bills and then disappear into thin air with absolutely no further participation. A baseball owner is supposed to do that, too. I disagree. That's not my way. Never has. Never will be."

Outside the 22-story office building he bought at 1 Charles Center, a woman he doesn't know comes up to thank him for helping organize and pay for additional police protection in the downtown area. "I don't know whether it stops crime but, hopefully, it's a deterrent," he says. "My hope is the citizens get to feel more secure about themselves and the city."

Then he strolls onto a veranda that adjoins his office and points to a fountain dedicated to the late civic leader Jeff Miller, explaining how the once attractive intersection of Fayette and Charles streets is continuing to regain the luster it lost. Also that a statue of former mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr. "is going to be moved from over there to up here where it can be seen by more people."

Angelos continues to give back to the city where he was raised, the son of an immigrant restaurant owner who by dint of application has become a man of prominence and importance. He's trying to make Baltimore better for all its inhabitants and visitors, too. It's a dream he talks about and wants to share.

At a restaurant in Little Italy, a man introduces himself as Matt Mechlinski and tells him about a prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system he hopes the Orioles can obtain. The player is Kevin Witt, a tall first baseman with power, drafted in the first round in 1994, now at Syracuse in the International League, whose father once played at Mount St. Joseph high school. An unsolicited scouting report, but Angelos promises he'll convey the thought to Pat Gillick, the general manager.

As for Gillick, it's the owner's belief he'll retire at the end of the season, and he doesn't believe Gillick will go to work for another team. If this happens, then Kevin Malone is the anticipated successor, but again, that's merely a presumption. Angelos never makes those kind of promises. He's truly a lawyer who keeps his own counsel in all involvements, including the vast law practice he created through long hours of perseverance these ++ last 40 years.

As to the possibility of ever selling the team, he gives a one-word opinion: "No." It's obvious he's content in what he's doing, even if his decisions don't always meet with public approval. Emotional controversies have evolved, such as the departures of Johnson and play-by-play announcer Jon Miller. Yet, through it all, a feeling of quiet pride prevails. The right of ownership has its advantages.

What about his sons having a future in baseball? "They'd probably be interested, but I don't know. John works for the club and Lou will be taking the bar exam. I tell them both it's more important to become good lawyers and then maybe connect with the team in some later capacity. I hope they haven't been spoiled and respect all people with courtesy."

What's the nature of his relationship with the Maryland Stadium Authority? "I have no relationship. Joe Foss, our vice chairman of business/finance, deals with them. But imagine suggesting to build a huge entertainment center in the parking lot of the ballpark." To a listener, it's a ludicrous idea hardly worthy of comment or Angelos' disgust.

Angelos has deals pending and cases in preparation all the time. Gillick and Malone consult him on what they consider major trades, the same as trainer Dick Dutrow goes over what he has in mind for the horses Angelos owns. He has embarked on building another restaurant, after creating Perring Place and Shane's. It'll be located between the revitalized Camden Station and the warehouse. Architects have trouble fulfilling his desires, so two have come and gone.

Peter Angelos provided Baltimore what it never had before an owner not afraid to spend top dollar and then some. He paid millions for the right to exercise his authority and it's going to remain that way. A man determined to excel but not so driven he won't stop to see if he can help an old friend, a baseball team or, yes, even a city in need.

Pub Date: 6/14/98

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