Like football in this town – could an out-of-town owner save baseball?

June 06, 2007 | Drew Forrester

When you sit back and reflect on what’s happened to our baseball franchise since 1993, doesn’t it sometimes seem like only yesterday that a “local guy” bought the team from out-of-town owner Eli Jacobs? 

I’m not sure where you were on the day the sale of the Orioles was announced, but I remember breathing a sigh of relief and joining thousands of fans in Baltimore who were delighted that a local owner was in place to take the team “to the next level”.

That man, of course, was Peter G. Angelos.  And with him, came a group of investors who contributed both financially and spiritually since a great number of them were local Baltimore men (and women).

Well, time has proved its point.  The team has, indeed, been taken to the “next level”.  The only problem with that, of course, is that the level the team attained was a downturn, not an upswing.  It’s the “next level”, for sure, but not the level we all expected.

When Baltimore lost the Colts in 1984, it was an out-of-town guy who packed up the team and buzzed off to Indianapolis in pursuit of his “next level”.  And when the Ravens arrived in 1996, they did so with a family from Cleveland and a bunch of employees from Northern Ohio who wouldn’t have known Federal Hill from Faith Hill when they stepped off that plane at BWI to embark on their new journey in Baltimore.

Well, it didn’t take long for people like Art and Pat Modell, David Modell, Ozzie Newsome, Kevin Byrne and Pat Moriarty (just to name a select few – there are plenty more) to figure out Baltimore football fans.  In just over a decade, the Ravens have firmly entrenched themselves in the community as a team all of Baltimore can be proud of…and every once in a while you have to stop and remember these were people from Cleveland who swooped in here and pulled out all the (right) stops to embrace Charm City.

So, that brings me to our current situation with the baseball franchise in town.

Maybe it’s time for someone from out-of-town to step-in and take the Orioles to “the next level”.  Or, rather, take the Orioles back to the “old level” – when the team was competitive and when they played before crowds of passionate BALTIMORE baseball fans.

One of the reasons an out-of-towner might make more sense is certainly economics.  There might not be anyone in town who has the $500 or so million that Peter Angelos is going to command for the on-field organization.  I’m sure he’d like to throw in that thing he calls a sports TV network for another $300 million, but right now that thing isn’t worth $33.00, so if I’m an prospective buyer of the club, I tell Petey to keep that TV network and give it to one of his sons as a 50th birthday gift. 

You always hear the same names anytime “local” buyers are mentioned:  John Paterakis (ain’t happening in a million years, so forget that notion), Chip Mason and Bill Miller (of Legg Mason fame), and, the “hot” name these days, Cal Ripken Jr.

While all of those guys might have access to a $500 million in cash, it’s fairly safe to say none of them would be willing to write that kind of check out of their own account.  The last guy in town with that kind of money was Steve Bisciotti, seven years ago.

Gee, I wonder if Steve thinks he made the right decision when he bought the Ravens instead of the Orioles?

But perhaps the biggest reason why an out-of-town owner might make more sense is because Peter G. Angelos won’t have any kind of past history with someone not from Baltimore.  That could be the deal-breaker.  Think about it…almost ANYONE (capable of putting together an ownership group) locally has probably had some kind of interaction with Angelos over the years – and judging by what you hear “on the street”, not many people have asked for a return engagement with Pete after their first go-round with him. 

Can’t you just see it now?  John Paterakis offers Pete $500 million for the franchise – no other offers come in at all – and Pete tells his people, “I wouldn’t sell the team to Paterakis if he were the last man standing on earth.”  Don’t think he’s capable of that kind of irrational decision?  Hell, he put the clamps on the road jerseys issue last week because WNST “pushed the agenda” – if he engages in that kind of wasteful thinking, imagine what he would do if someone in town that he didn’t like wanted to buy the baseball team from him and return the club to its glory of yester-year.

For those of you saying, “The team isn’t even for sale, why are you bringing this up Drew?” — I have the obvious and easiest business reply for you:  “It’s ALWAYS for sale – for the right price.”

Maybe an out-of-town prospect is the only person or group that could come in here with no previous scars from dealings with Angelos and actually make a logical, profitable proposal to Pete.

Someone needs to assume control of this franchise and get it back on track – sooner rather than later – and somehow show the people of Baltimore that the team is interested in making them feel good about their home team once again.

I’m telling you, someone from out-of-town might be the BEST prospect all the way around.  From a distance, they might not have any idea just how much this team has tinkled on its fan base over the last 13 years.  A group of wealthy businessmen from, say, Long Island, might just think the team is mired in a slump and that “winning cures everything”.  Outsiders might assume the team just needs “new blood.”  In summary, the team might be easier to sell to an out-of-towner because they haven’t been around these parts every day for the last 10 years to see just how much Baltimore has dismissed the Orioles with a wave and a quick, “see ya hon.”

And in Pete’s case, an out-of-town owner almost guarantees there are no “personality conflicts” that would almost certainly inhibit any talks with local people. 

Now – I know some of you are probably thinking: “Wait, Drew, how is an out-of-towner going to come in to Baltimore and put his/their finger on the pulse of the community to determine what changes need to be made to return this team to the fans of Baltimore and to its winning ways?”

Well, I don’t know the answer to that.  I assume they’ll do it the old fashioned way – by hiring the right people and spending time in the community talking to the fans about what THEY want.  In short, – you’ve heard this somewhere before – the new owners will let their marketing people make the marketing decisions, the business people make the business decisions, and, the baseball people will make the baseball decisions.  I have an inkling that’s how it would work.

And I do know this:  The current group of people running the organization are primarily from Baltimore and they have NO idea how to connect with the fans of Baltimore and, in fact, have made decisions over the last decade or so that have intentionally conflicted with any measure of common sense as it relates to appeasing and rewarding the LOCAL foundation of fans.  So if the local guys can’t do it, let’s give some out-of-towners a chance.

I also know this:  Out-of-towners sure made it work for the Ravens.

As Ben Affleck said in “Good Will Hunting”…”I don’t know much, but I know that.”

DF

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