I watched Barry Levinson’s brilliant documentary, “The Band that Wouldn’t Die” last night and was blown away by some of the footage and the back story leading up to the Colts departure. I was 8 years old when the Mayflower vans rolled out of town and other than my old Colts jacket, which is framed in my basement, I don’t have any real memories of the team.
I’ve heard countless stories from my Dad, Uncle and Brother about the glory days of the Colts and Bob Irsay’s erratic behavior and open courtship of other cities. After watching some of the Irsay clips and the testimonials from Baltimoreans I began to wonder, “Is Angelos a worse owner than Irsay?”
On it’s surface it may sound ludicrous. Irsay was the worst owner imaginable, right? He was a drunk, a liar and a charlatan. He held the City of Baltimore and its beloved Colts hostage for over a decade. There was no pretense with Irsay. Everyone knew what he was and what he was planning on doing. Bob Irsay was the scum of the Earth, and that’s all we ever thought he was.
When Peter Angelos purchased the Orioles in 1993 he was hailed as a savior, a local owner who would save the franchise from the grasp of an evil out of towner. The fact is Angelos purchased the Orioles a year after the move to Camden Yards. The team had a brand new ballpark, the gem of MLB, and 29 years left on its lease. The Orioles weren’t going anywhere, and for that we can thank William Donald Schaefer, not Angelos.
I won’t rehash Peter’s missteps over the past 12 plus seasons. We all know the names and the stories. Just like Irsay before him, Angelos has taken a beloved Baltimore franchise and reduced it to irrelevance, chasing away fans and living legends along the way. The real shame is that Angelos was supposed to be the concerned local owner. The past 12 years have spun a different tale. Is it possible to be a carpet bagger in your hometown?
The Orioles have slashed payroll over the past 3 off seasons, starting with the Tejada and Bedard deals after the 2007 season. The team has also cleared the salaries of Jay Gibbons, Aubrey Huff and Chad Bradford. The impending departures of Melvin Mora and Dannys Baez will clear approximately $14 million in salary. The team’s payroll has dropped from $95 million in 2007 to $67 million in 2009. The drop in payroll happens to coincide with the birth of MASN, the Orioles’ team owned regional network. Despite the fact that I’ve only purchased one ticket in the past 2 seasons, Angelos gets a chunk of my hard earned cash every month when I pay my Comcast bill. In fact, he gets a bit of every Comcast bill from Southern PA to North Carolina. That’s a lot of extra scratch for a team with a dwindling payroll.
This is a telltale offseason for the Orioles. They have some bona fide young talent in place for the first time in decades, desperate needs in the middle of the lineup and the top of the rotation, and a boatload of cash. They still have that $140 million Tex turned down last year, right? Andy MacPhail and Company could sign Matt Holliday, Troy Glaus and John Lackey, bump the payroll up to a more reasonable level and take aim at the Yankees and Red Sox. The more likely scenario of course is that Angelos has discovered it to be more profitable to spend $60 million on payroll to win 60 games than it is to spend $95 million to win 90 games or less.
Until the Orioles ownership changes the most Baltimore fans can hope for is a team with a solid farm system that hovers around .500 most seasons and once every 4 or 5 years catches lighting in a bottle and competes for a Wild Card. That’s better than what we’ve had for the past 12 years, but it’s not what it could be, and it’s certainly not what we deserve or pay for.