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Parity case paints sour Angelos

THE BALTIMORE SUN

One by one, some of the key players in Baltimore's journey toward a new era of pro sports took the oath in the Orioles' "parity" case. Baseball executives such as Larry Lucchino and one-time stadium point man Herb Belgrad touched on the milestones in the city's sports renaissance.

Even the late Edward Bennett Williams appeared, on videotape. The Washingtonian who owned the baseball team through much of the 1980s was shown persuading lawmakers to approve twin stadiums for downtown Baltimore.

But one of the city's most prominent sports figures was never seen during the hearings, convened to consider the Orioles' claim that the state gave the football team a better deal and should pay millions to the Orioles to make amends.

Orioles majority owner Peter G. Angelos didn't have to make the trip to Washington for his presence to be felt. During more than two weeks of hearings, lawyers and witnesses recalled his words and deeds on topics ranging from a rock concert to his ill-fated pursuit of an NFL team - and his sour relationship with the Maryland Stadium Authority.

The strain between Angelos and his landlords at the stadium authority forms the backdrop to the Orioles' legal pursuit of what they claim as their due, said several familiar with the dealings between the team and the state.

"There was a serious dislocation in the relationship between the Orioles owned by Mr. Angelos and the Maryland Stadium Authority after he was not awarded an NFL team," George Beall, a lawyer representing the stadium authority, said during a break in the proceedings. As a result, he said, Angelos has acted like he "would rather be the landlord than the tenant" at Oriole Park.

Disputes over who calls the shots have ranged from parking near the ballpark to signage at the warehouse.

"His facts are grossly incorrect," Angelos responded in an interview this week. "There weren't any hard feelings arising from those [football] discussions. ... I supported the re-establishment of a football team in Baltimore. It wasn't conditioned on us or our investors group owning the ballclub."

Angelos does not disagree that there have been hard feelings between him and stadium authority officials. But he blames much of the friction on his opposing their plan to place a sign for another tenant, Waverly Press, on the landmark warehouse.

He said the Orioles have been good tenants and responsible stewards at Camden Yards and have spent hundreds of thousands on improvements.

"Have we not paid the rent? Haven't we done everything to keep Oriole Park in the shape it was when we took over?" he asked.

In recent years the Orioles have paid for a new warning track, new lights and improvements to team offices, according to testimony.

The Orioles case was argued before a panel of arbitrators headed by former FBI and CIA chief William H. Webster. Testimony concluded last week, and lawyers for the sides will next submit a series of briefs. The panel is expected to issue its ruling in March.

The Orioles triggered the arbitration hearing by invoking a clause in their lease that guarantees them "fairly comparable terms" to any deal offered an NFL team.

Why is deal inferior?

They have identified 11 areas in which they say their lease is inferior to the deal offered to Ravens majority owner Art Modell. Among the claims: that the team should receive an interest-free loan to build more skyboxes at Oriole Park and that it should receive at least $26 million in rent credits for the value of concession equipment the team says the state bought at PSINet but not at Oriole Park.

Pointing to the negotiations that allowed the Ravens to sell the name of Baltimore's football stadium as part of a $105 million deal, the Orioles say they should be granted the right to sell the baseball stadium's name.

The stadium authority has argued the parity clause does not permit the Orioles to pick and choose among terms. It contends that the Orioles' lease is at least as good as the Ravens' and that the baseball team's arrangement amounts to a public subsidy of more than a million dollars a year.

"I never once dreamed we did anything to get ourselves in this much trouble," testified Bruce H. Hoffman, the authority's director from 1989 until earlier this year.

Stadium authority witnesses such as Herbert J. Belgrad, the authority's first chairman, and Hoffman, offered testimony last week that frequently brought Angelos into the case.

Both testified that Angelos, while trying unsuccessfully in the mid-1990s to buy the then-Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, offered to waive the parity clause in the Orioles' lease.

"I remember that like it was yesterday," Hoffman testified. "Mr. Angelos and his lawyers agreed to waive that provision. We were giving him a heck of a deal."

Angelos, whose NFL bid was encouraged by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer in keeping with his preference for local ownership, said, "That isn't true. ... That is a proposal [waiving parity] that came from their direction."

"I couldn't waive it if I wanted to. The other investors would have to agree to that," Angelos said.

Drawing a parallel between the present and the past, Angelos said the stadium authority can't dismiss parity as a hollow issue between the Orioles and Ravens. Otherwise, he asked, why would the authority have made it an issue in what was a potential, similar deal for the Buccaneers?

But Hoffman, in his testimony, said the deal offered Angelos as a potential NFL owner was better than the agreement later reached with Modell to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore.

At one point, the state agreed to contribute $3 million toward the purchase of the Tampa Bay team, and reimburse Angelos' investment group for $10 million in moving expenses, according to an uncompleted draft agreement

The arbitration panel was told that the stadium authority's relationship with the Orioles deteriorated after Angelos gained control. For instance, Angelos often did not return calls, Belgrad testified.

"It was a totally different relationship than the stadium authority had enjoyed for the preceding nine years with Edward Bennett Williams and Larry Lucchino, and Eli Jacobs and a number of other people who were on the Orioles' staff," said Belgrad, who was chairman of the stadium authority from its creation in 1986 until 1995.

"Serving as unpaid chairman of an authority lost its appeal when it evolved into nothing but continual contention with the owner of the team," he testified.

Pulling the plug on concerts

The disputes began soon after Angelos took over in the fall of 1993, officials testified, citing a clash over whether the stadium authority would stage rock concerts at Oriole Park.

Angelos nixed authority officials' efforts to arrange for rock legends the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd to play at Oriole Park.

"He didn't throw us out of his office but he came relatively close," Hoffman testified. "I think he really hated Mick Jagger's tongue. He kept talking about, 'That tongue is disgusting. I don't want him in my building.' "

Angelos said in a recent interview that he was concerned the stage would damage the playing field at Oriole Park. "I'm not going to have it become some kind of honky tonk for various and sundry rock 'n' roll bands."

Hoffman, in his testimony, said that the stadium authority had legal right to book the show, but probably made the right call in backing down.

"Ten thousand people pouring beers all over the field - it would have been wrong," Hoffman said. Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones played at Washington's RFK Stadium in the summer of 1994.

The Orioles, pointing to a clause that allows the Ravens to put on events at PSINet and split the profits with the stadium authority, are asking for a similar right. Currently, only the authority can stage events at Oriole Park.

John A. Moag Jr., who succeeded Belgrad as the authority's chairman, acknowledged that he also had a stormy relationship with Angelos. Moag said Angelos resented the stadium authority's efforts to attract an NFL team.

"It just got bad," he said.

Others with knowledge of the relationship between Angelos and the stadium authority described similar problems, but asked that their names be withheld to avoid possible recriminations. Several sources said that the relationship soured when Angelos failed to land a football team and state officials embraced Modell and his team, which became the Ravens.

In January 1996, less than three months after Modell announced he would move the team to Baltimore, Angelos wrote a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislative leaders, stating that he would seek parity.

Calling Moag "reckless and cavalier" for telling a U.S. Senate committee that Angelos "gets rich out of" Oriole Park, the Orioles majority owner wrote that the team would not "stand idly by while our clear rights are being mischaracterized and ignored."

The Orioles notified the authority they were invoking the parity clause in September 1996 and, after no settlement was reached, filed for arbitration last April.

This week, Angelos called the team's pursuit of the parity claim "a simple business matter," explaining: "I have an obligation to see to it that whatever is coming to this particular entity, the Orioles franchise, is realized."

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