New Era for O’s; Fresh Start for Angelos Too?

February 19, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson


“Thyrl’s Mobtown Blog Pound”

Maybe things have finally come full circle for Peter Angelos and the Orioles. 2008 has been a full circle year in sports. When Brian Billick was hired as the Ravens coach, replacing Jim Harbaugh with Scott Mitchell was one of his first orders of business. Now Billick finds himself being replaced by Harbaugh’s brother John, full circle. The Patriots dynasty run began with the famous “tuck rule”, and ended after being dominated by Justin Tuck, again full circle.

If you had to mark the beginning of the downfall of the Orioles under Peter Angelos, I say it began when we were unable to complete the trade to bring Al Leiter to Baltimore for Esteban Yan when Yan was selected by the D-Rays in the expansion draft. By bringing Yan back this season, perhaps the Orioles have brought their karma back full circle and are poised to begin a new era.
It sure feels like a new era, the roster is full of young prospects and we have a capable front office that has been seemingly left alone to do their business. Andy MacPhail has handled his business brilliantly thus far, and I simply can’t remember the last time that I’ve seen or heard from Peter Angelos. This is what I seem to remember us asking for back in 1998 and 1999, and ten years later we seem to have finally gotten our wish.
A funny thing happened along the way to rebuilding this team the first time around. Actually a lot of funny things happened; funny that is unless you were an O’s fan. There was the Yan thing, the dismissals of Jon Miller and Davey Johnson, there were tons of bad free agent signings, questionable trades, mistreatment of the fans, indeed it would have been difficult to do more to damage the reputation and viability of the team if they had set out to purposefully do so.
But what if they had purposefully set out to do so? As a 35-year old fan, there have been 6 memorable seasons in my lifetime in Oriole baseball. They were ’79, ’82, ’83, ’89, ’96 and ’97. At six, my memories of 1979 are vague, the double header against Milwaukee on Friday night in 1982 remains my favorite Oriole memory to this day, but aside from the championship in ’83, the others all ended in bitter disappointment. When Angelos bought the club and began spending money, it marked the only point in my lifetime to be optimistic about the future of my team.
Angelos hired the best GM in baseball and opened up the checkbook for him, the O’s failure to win during Angelos’ early tenure was not because of his lack of trying. Squashing the Bonilla trade will be the point that some see as the beginning of the end, but to this day I contend that was the right move.
Early on it was clear that Angelos would be a meddler, but few professional sports owners would not be seen as such. Angelos meddling was clearly for what he thought to be the good of the team. Refusing to field a strike team should have endeared him to free agents. The stance that Angelos took in siding with Robby Alomar and others over Davey Johnson isn’t dissimilar to the way that Steve Bisciotti handled the Ravens coaching situation this off-season. No one would deny that Angelos was more involved in the running of the club than we would have liked, but he was by all accounts a player’s owner, and one who was operating with the highest payroll in baseball too. Yeah, a funny thing sure happened on the way to rebuilding that team.
It’s funny how winning the World Series in 1996 would make the world forgive the biggest meddling baseball owner, George Steinbrenner. It’s funny that they overlook the fact that the core of the team that has sustained the Yankees since that season was built in Steinbrenner’s absence due to suspension. While I will admit that David Wells is a noted historian of the game and a huge Babe Ruth fan, I’ll also point out that the Yankees hadn’t sniffed success for the previous 15 seasons. But fresh off of a world championship, the pinstripes began to beckon Wells, and the piling on began.
The Yankees and Red Sox blew past the salary ceiling that the O’s had established, and Baltimore’s efforts at rebuilding were failing miserably. Furthermore, never fully able to commit to rebuilding, the O’s continued to try and fill gaps with high priced free agents, and wasted tons of money on contracts for players like Belle, David Segui and Marty Cordova. All of the work that Angelos had done to position himself as a player’s owner was for naught when free agents consistently spurned the O’s for teams with a better chance to compete.
Forget about the fact that the Ravens came into town and received a sweetheart relocation package, and a nice bailout loan to boot. They also got naming rights to their publicly funded stadium, while Angelos was denied the same luxury even though he, unlike the Ravens was being forced to compete in an unbalanced salary structure, with the two biggest spenders in the league parked in his division. Is the name Oriole Park at Camden Yards really all that sacred in an era when we’ve seen nearly every historical ballpark in sports renamed after a corporate sponsor?
If you placed yourself in Angelos’ shoes at that point, you’d probably be starting to feel slighted. But what would happen next would have left anyone in a precarious situation. Sometime around 2001, the powers that be at MLB decided to roll out the idea of contraction. Contraction was a rouse at best, a threat to leverage against the player’s union in their latest contract negotiations. But few could deny that baseball had some franchises with issues, most notably the Expos, and that big changes were coming.
The move of the Expos seemed eminent for 5 years or more before it actually happened, further evidence of the inability of MLB to get out of their own way. Angelos certainly had few friends among the owners, and try as they might, baseball just couldn’t find a city to take the Expos. Pretty early on it became obvious that the Expos would likely land in DC, making it even more unlikely that the O’s would be able to compete with their high priced division foes.
Here is where the conspiracy begins. State level politicians seemed more interested in getting a piece of the revenue pie from the new team than in preventing their arrival. And the O’s TV flagship, Comcast Sports Net was looking at big money from a new team too. So without an ally in his fight to keep the team out of DC, and while being subtly trashed nightly on his own flagship, Angelos went about doing the dirty work himself.
For the next several years, Angelos desperately did everything that he could to chase the fans away from the ballpark, and that was no easy task. Surely baseball wouldn’t consider us cash strapped while we were selling out the ballpark every night. Losing wouldn’t have been enough to chase the fans out as quickly as he needed. I believe that the club set out to alienate the fan base at every level. As a season ticket holder the change in marketing strategies became obvious. The O’s went from putting something in my mailbox nearly every week, to sending little more than an annual bill. The ballpark experience went down too, prices continued to climb, anniversary teams were ignored and the front office was peppered with bad press on and off the field. This is all much too coincidental to be an accident. I refuse to believe that they simply became this bad at marketing seemingly overnight.
I began to doubt this theory when the last 2 seasons went much like the previous 8, even though the Expos had already landed in DC, but there still were loose ends to be tied up. First was settling the TV dispute with Comcast, I still find it hilarious that Comcast was leading the charge to bash Angelos and bring a team to DC as they seemed to stand to benefit most. If Angelos was trying to chase the fans away, Comcast sure helped him do it, and they not only got cut out of the Expos deal, but lost the O’s too. The second order of business was convincing a respected and capable front office guy that he could come here and begin to run it like a Major League Baseball team again. The last will be putting a foundation in place that makes Baltimore an attractive destination for free agents again, that one may take some time.
Okay, it’s a stretch, I’ll admit, but spring is in the air, and I want to be excited about baseball again. The O’s seem to be moving in the right direction, and finally have a team that I can be excited about again.
Although he failed to keep the Expos from moving here, he did get a great TV deal out of it, among other personal perks. Without such a network we likely would never be able to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox who each have their own regional networks. Getting a little money from the DC team should help narrow the revenue gap a bit.
If Angelos really does take a step back now, and MacPhail is up to the task of making this a viable franchise again, I will be willing to forgive the last 10 years. I might even be able to see the logic in it, and one day come to thank Angelos for taking the unpopular yet necessary (as he saw them) steps to make this a viable club for years to come. And if things continue the way that they have been for the last ten seasons, I’ll delete this, deny I ever said it and join right in with the rest of the Angelos bashers.
All I really want is a team that I can cheer for again.


“Thyrl’s Mobtown Blog Pound”