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Steinbrenner, Angelos and their legacies

One imagines that the owner of the Baltimore Orioles reads with keen interest the various adjectives that appear in the obituaries and elegies for George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees, who died Tuesday. One imagines that a man looks upon the life of a peer — in age, ego and experience — and compares the deceased's accomplishments with his own. One imagines that the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, who appears to be either impervious or oblivious to criticism about the management of his tarnished franchise, would find in this occasion an opportunity for the deepest kind of late-life soul-searching and contemplations about legacy.

Mr. Steinbrenner, with legendary style, shook the struggling Yankees out of mediocrity, restored their glory and made the franchise extravagantly successful. He at some point shut up and let the real baseball men do their jobs.

In Baltimore, Peter Angelos brought the once-glorious Orioles back to competitiveness for a couple of seasons in the early part of his tenure, then fired or alienated the brilliant baseball men around him and watched the organization totter into more than a decade of losing and declining fan base. He saw last year the most prestigious sports journal in the country declare him the worst owner in baseball, too.

"What would be gained," Mark Hyman, the former Sun sportswriter, asked in an essay for the Baltimore Brew in 2008, "if Mr. Angelos stepped forward and accepted responsibility for a lot of the disappointment that has been the Orioles, if he held a news conference to say: 'I've made more mistakes owning this team than I can count. Sorry.'? It wouldn't buy Jeremy Guthrie even one more win. The Yankees would still have a $200 million-plus payroll. But it would go a long way toward mending the owner's reputation as a standup guy."

And it might even bring some Orioles fans back to Camden Yards.

Of course, there has been no such new-chapter-writing press conference.

But it's possible that, even before the death of George Steinbrenner, Peter Angelos thought about the baseball part of his legacy — the most public and significant part of it — and launched the grand repair a couple of years ago. Perhaps, without telling anyone, he was jarred out of the happy-enough stupor that making-money-while-losing brings. He might have unclenched his fist fully and allowed a respected baseball man, Andy MacPhail, to make the key decisions that will make the Orioles winners again. Perhaps this is a genuine and earnest effort to rebuild the team for another belle époque of Baltimore baseball. There are a lot of people who, at this writing, have started to see glimmers of this, even with the 2010 Orioles at 29-59.

Certainly we want to believe it is so. We want to believe that all men care about their legacies.

-o-

This month marks 30 years since the opening of Harborplace, and what I remember most about it was the buildup to it. The newspapers in this town went a bit nuts.

Reporters in both the morning and evening Sun newsrooms — and on Lombard Street at The News-American — became known as the Harborplace reporters. In the long walkup to its opening, there were stories about the preparations for and the promise of Harborplace every day. At one point, Grace Darin, vigilant veteran of the Evening Sun copy desk, spotted yet another story on the daily news budget, jumped up at her desk and exclaimed, "Not again! Ten years ago, we would have told them to take out an ad!"

Yes, Ms. Darin agreed, the opening of Harborplace was a significant event in modern Baltimore, but it was also a commercial enterprise. A newspaper must maintain a healthy skepticism, inoculated against boosterism and the inordinate heralding of any particular for-profit enterprise. The line between news and advertisement must be clear, and Grace Darin believed a long-held journalistic standard had been lowered by the reporting on Harborplace. She was a woman of integrity and certitude, lecturing from the old school, a good school.

-o-

For the record, that speed camera on Bellona Avenue — the one by a cemetery, the one I wrote about last month — has been moved, apparently to another location where it can be used by the cash-starved city of Baltimore to snatch up some more $40 fines. So much for "protecting a school zone." If that's the reason the camera was placed where it was, then why has it been moved? Looking forward to seeing how much new revenue these speed cameras provide for our beloved burg. Perhaps we'll be able to repeal the bottle tax.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail: dan.rodricks@baltsun.com. http://www.twitter.com/Midday.

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