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Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles and their fans set sights on 2023 playoffs, although dueling Angelos family lawsuits cloud offseason forecast

The Major League Baseball playoffs began this weekend. Next year, Orioles fans expect their team to be in them.

The 2022 regular season concluded Wednesday, with the Orioles finishing 83-79 and missing the postseason for the sixth straight year — but far surpassing preseason expectations.

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And even as questions loom around the organization — the sons of 93-year-old owner Peter Angelos remain embroiled in lawsuits over control of the team and the club’s lease at Camden Yards has yet to be formally extended beyond next year — both fans and Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Elias are optimistic about the future. Elias said the team will spend more on its major league payroll in 2023, and fans look forward to cheering on playoff baseball in Baltimore for the first time since 2016.

Fan Joe Kruemmer didn’t pause when asked about expectations for next season.

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“Playoffs — at least,” he said Wednesday before the Orioles concluded their season by splitting a doubleheader with the playoff-bound Toronto Blue Jays.

Since being hired in November 2018, Elias has often discussed the importance of building a complete organization — not just at the major league level, but including the minor leagues and player development. In his introductory news conference, he said, “The plan is simple. We’re going to build an elite talent pipeline.” He’s talked over the four years since of patiently building a foundation and of following a process.

However, when he addressed the media Wednesday, he spoke of imminent postseason aspirations.

“That’s our goal,” Elias said of making the playoffs, “and we feel that the organization is in a position now to realistically pursue that goal for next year.”

On the field, the Orioles were perhaps the biggest success story in baseball this season. After being projected to finish with the fewest wins in the league by most sportsbooks (62.5), they posted a better record than 16 other clubs and remained in postseason contention until Oct. 1. Perhaps most remarkably, they are the first team since 1899 to finish .500 or better in a season after losing 110 games the year before.

Off the field, Orioles news has been less pleasant. Angelos’ younger son, Louis, filed a lawsuit in June against his mother, Georgia, and older brother, John. Mrs. Angelos filed a countersuit, with both sides arguing over control of the Orioles and other assets. In his suit, Louis’ attorneys depicted John as seeking to “maintain absolute control over the Orioles,” while Georgia’s attorneys categorized Louis’ conduct as “elder abuse” against the ailing family patriarch and said Louis “surreptitiously seeks to abscond with Peter’s legacy.”

Brandon Hyde, manager of the Baltimore Orioles (left) sits with Mike Elias, the team's executive vice president and general manager during the final day of the 2022 season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The drama, as depicted in the lawsuits, details not only decision-making relevant to the Orioles (Mrs. Angelos’ lawsuit credits John with hiring Elias and allowing the general manager to rebuild the team), but provides a window into familial disputes, such as Louis claiming his father “reminded” John for years that he’d “attended law school but had not become a member of the bar” and suggesting that John “wants to extinguish all traces of Mr. Angelos’ success as a lawyer.”

The lawsuits often allege mistreatment and lies.

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“Lou tells the story of a domineering older brother, an enfeebled mother and a slighted son. The problem with the story, however, is that it is not true,” Georgia’s attorneys wrote in a September filing.

The judge in the Baltimore County case has set a trial date for July, while urging the feuding family to find a way to settle the case.

When asked if the lawsuits might impact the Orioles organization this offseason, Elias didn’t directly address those concerns, but said he believes the club is in a good spot.

“I feel great about the people that we have in the organization, the support from the ownership level, the partnership group and the health and continuity there between baseball [operations] and the owners,” he said.

Pressing his face against the protective netting, Owen Johnson, 10, of Perry Hall, gets the attention Wednesday of an Orioles player as he signs autographs during the final day of the 2022 regular season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Many Orioles fans at the season-ending doubleheader were not focused on the details of the lawsuit. Brian Leahy of Bel Air said one of his few concerns would be if it detracted from the play on the field. He noted that to the contrary, the 2022 Orioles “overperformed in spite of all that noise.”

For many fans, the lawsuits boil down to a question: Will the Orioles remain in Baltimore? Louis’ lawsuit suggested John could “move [the Orioles] to Tennessee” where he has a home. Georgia Angelos said in her filing that she’d hired a law firm and an investment bank to handle a sale of the team. But John Angelos has insisted publicly and repeatedly that the team will remain in Baltimore, as it has for the last 68 years. Sources told The Baltimore Sun in August that John would prefer to sell a piece of the family’s stake in the team, while retaining majority control.

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”I guess I care, to an extent,” Leahy said of the lawsuits. “Do I think it’s to the extent where we’re gonna look up next year and there’s not going to be an Oriole team here? No, I don’t see something like that happening any time in the near future.”

As highlighted by placards throughout the ballpark, this season marked the 30th anniversary of the opening of Camden Yards, which is owned by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The Orioles’ lease is slated to end next year and the team has not signed a new lease.

But according to a document obtained by The Sun, the Orioles intend to sign a new lease with the stadium authority.

“As a lifelong Baltimorean I very much look forward to signing on behalf of the Club,” John Angelos, the Orioles chairman and CEO, wrote in a Sept. 1 memorandum to front-office employees.

The stadium authority has not shared when a lease might be agreed to, but said in a statement last month that it is “working closely” with the Orioles so Camden Yards “will be upgraded to remain best-in-class facilities in terms of safety, amenities and fan experience.”

The Maryland General Assembly this year approved up to $600 million in improvements to Oriole Park, but that money is dependent upon a new lease being signed. It is not known specifically yet how the ballpark would be renovated, but Elias said Wednesday that the outfield dimensions, altered in the last offseason to move back the left field wall, could be changed again down the line.

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A new lease is also essential for another reason: It could further bind the club to Baltimore. The current lease contains a clause that prevents the organization from relocating cities.

Also looming this offseason is the potential sale of the neighboring Washington Nationals by the family of real estate magnate Ted Lerner, which could lead to the resolution of the club’s decadelong television rights fees dispute with the Orioles-controlled Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

Attendance in Baltimore has ranked among the lowest in MLB in recent years, but the Orioles ranked 23rd in 2022, their first time outside the bottom five since 2017. With an average of 17,739 fans per game, Camden Yards saw an 8.5% increase in average attendance compared with 2019, the last season before the coronavirus pandemic.

Orioles third baseman Gunnar Henderson, left, shakes hands with left fielder Ryan McKenna on Wednesday during the final day of the 2022 regular season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The stadium authority said in a statement last month that it is “extremely pleased with the [Orioles’] performance and the fan attendance this season,” and Elias said he hopes to see attendance increase going forward.

“We’re interested in bringing more fans into the park, and bringing our revenues back up and making the organization more healthy from a business standpoint so we can continue to grow in the future,” Elias said.

When Elias spoke with reporters on the final day of the 2021 season, he sought to temper offseason expectations. Heading into last winter, he said, the Orioles would be “very cognizant of who we are.”

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“I do think that the time for the Orioles of making the largest splash at the winter meetings is not right now,” he said then.

This year, as the Orioles were in the playoff hunt midseason, two of the team’s top contributors, Trey Mancini and Jorge López, were dealt at the trade deadline in moves indicative of a still-rebuilding club.

But such actions would seem harder to imagine next year. Elias said the time is right — “in fact, the time is pressing” — to pursue free agents and maximize the Orioles’ 2023 postseason chances.

Baltimore’s $64.8 million payroll in 2022 ranked 29th of the 30 MLB teams and nearly $100 million below the league average, according to Spotrac.

Elias indicated the Orioles would spend more on next year’s team.

“This is the time to start to make more significant investments in the major league payroll,” he said.

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That’s welcome news for fans who have endured 100-loss seasons in recent years.

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“It’s the beginning of a comeback,” said Christina Kruemmer, a fan from Delaware. “This team is gonna take us places.” Added her husband, Joe: “Very proud of them this year. They’ve come a long way.”

Fan Greg Gordon of Frederick said that this year’s team has “been fun” and refreshing after some thin seasons. He said that next year, reaching the playoffs is not just a hope, but an expectation.

Inside the clubhouse, players enjoyed being in the postseason hunt into the early days of October. Now, they’re hopeful for more.

“This is just a great steppingstone in the right direction, with the season these guys had up here,” said rookie left-hander DL Hall, one of the many promising players who debuted this year with the Orioles. “It’ll be a huge kind of slingshot for us into the next year, having this experience and knowing what to expect next year.”

For fans, amid any negative atmosphere surrounding the ownership’s lawsuits or lack of a long-term lease, the on-field promise is a breath of fresh air.

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“I used to wear my O’s hat and say, ‘Ah, how ‘bout them O’s,’” in exasperation, said Craig Ebersole of Linthicum. “Now, I say, ‘Let’s go, O’s!’ That’s the difference.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Nathan Ruiz and Jeff Barker contributed to this article.


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