Dear John Vidalin: Welcome to Birdland where baseball ain’t great and beer ain’t so cold anymore

July 08, 2018 | Nestor Aparicio

rang that night. The team sold less than 10 packages during the 6 to 8 p.m. radio show.

The next morning, the Baltimore Orioles were desperately calling WNST to go into business together for the first time. He asked what I charged for a flight of advertising. He needed immediate live reads and he wanted them read twice an hour all day, every day that week to sell as many kids packages as possible with Christmas a week away. I gave him our 2002 stock radio 60-second ad rate of $75 per spot and told him I’d sell him 10 but make sure he got at least 20 with bonus spots (plus all of the prattling on about our childhoods spent on 33rd Street and why it’s so awesome that the Angelos family was finally re-instituting the Junior Orioles program! I even told the story about when I won the “sweeping the bags” promotion in 1979 and former Texas Rangers manager Frank Lucchesi chased me into left field with my orange and black broom.)

It was a simple $750 a day buy for four days. The team faxed over the copy. Our hosts all waxed on and on about buying the Junior Orioles packages. The team spent $3000. WNST sold the team more than 800 packages.

All was well with the world.

(And it turns out, Arbitron has always been another complete bag of fraudulent corporate lies and still is because tens of thousands of people listen to me and WNST. You’ll find that out when you see how many people have read this letter once you get to Baltimore.)

After the holiday, the team rep reached back and wanted to go into business with WNST.

Peter Angelos never liked that I criticized the team. I didn’t think last place was acceptable. But our audience was enormous (still is as you’ll find out) and we helped your business. It was better to be decent to us than to treat us like garbage.

Someone in your building wanted to actually sell stuff and reached to us! And it worked.

The Orioles wanted to spend $750 a day doing a “takeover promotion” on 40 key days during the 2003 calendar year to promote whatever bobblehead, fireworks, concert, hat, shirt or trinket that needed help or love during the season.

As you know, this is a very nominal radio buy for an AM radio station that in 2002 was employing a dozen people and had an operating budget of almost $1,000,000. This was a $30,000 promotion that – as we always made clear and still do – doesn’t buy the Orioles the right to tell our hosts, listeners, audience, etc. what to say or think about the baseball team that was about to lose 91 more games that summer.

It’s a radio promotional ad buy – not a muzzle!

That summer, we interviewed Eddie Money and Joan Jett before concerts in front of The Warehouse. We hosted parties and events around Camden Yards to help sell beer and Oriole Magic for a shitty baseball team. I got married that summer and bought 100 tickets so that my wife’s Red Sox family and relatives could enjoy Orioles baseball the weekend of our wedding. Mike Flanagan, who was from my wife’s hometown, had my father-in-law in the owner’s box to chat with Tom Clancy for an hour. Flanagan appeared regularly on WNST and every time the team made a roster move he called in to answer questions and explain to the fans the direction of the franchise.

I have never met anyone who loved and cared more deeply about the Baltimore Orioles than Mike Flanagan. I don’t even know who would be second place, honestly.

You’ll want to read my letter to Mike Flanagan – a long overdue missive and love letter I’ve owed him since his suicide six years ago that no one around here ever wants to discuss – because he was the prime mover of trying to change things around there and not have “ownership” be further perceived as ruthless robber barrens who are inept at running a baseball franchise and even more inept at being cordial to the paying customers who love the Orioles but rightly believe 95 annual losses is twenty or thirty too many.

In the summer of 2003, we did another Phillies promotion and sold enthusiasm for seeing Sammy Sosa and the Cubs until he was suspended for having a corked bat two days before they made their first-ever appearance at Camden Yards as a franchise.

 

It was a bummer. So were the 88 losses that summer.

The winter before the 2004 season was a big deal. Flanagan and Jim Beattie hired Lee Mazzilli and attempted to change the culture of the franchise by turning the New York Yankees family tree toward Camden Yards. Flanny managed to massage the wallet of Mr. Angelos and signed Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez to huge deals and the Angelos family gave Sidney Ponson another ill-fated contract.

And, of course, your Orioles rep wanted to continue our initial local marketing deal for the 2004 season.

In those days, WNST would bring the whole staff to Fort Lauderdale in February to kick off spring training with a week of promotions, interviews and enthusiasm-building for the team as the only sports radio station in Baltimore. We’d sit in the dugout, try to get the guys who spoke English to come on the air to laugh, tell some stories, talk about their career, goals, baseball, sunshine in Florida, etc. Some guys were super cool. Elrod Hendricks was like a family member to me and my radio station. Sam Perlozzo is one of the best people I’ve ever met. Tom Trebelhorn was an encyclopedia of baseball information and knowledge. Guys like Jerry Hairston, Gary Matthews, John Parrish, Brian Roberts, Mike Bordick were some of the best people I’ve ever met in any walk of life. Manager Mike Hargrove would drop by and tell some old stories. He was the only big league ballplayer to ever give me a ball at Memorial Stadium when I was a kid and he was shagging batting practice in left field as a Cleveland Indians human rain delay.

Other guys were complete dicks. The 2004 Orioles were a team with Erik Bedard, Sidney Ponson, Rafael Palmeiro and managed by Lee Mazzilli, whose first speech on the first day of camp in Fort Lauderdale was “FUCK the media!!! Don’t help those people!”

Then at 10 a.m. the clubhouse doors opened and I had to walk in and ask: “Who wants to step outside and talk to the fans back in Baltimore about the last three seasons of 90-loss Orioles baseball on a cold winter morning at home?”

You work in sports. You know the drill.

In February, we spent nearly $10,000 doing spring training broadcasts for a week in Florida. In March, we dreamed up a campaign to sell tickets for a Friday night game against the Anaheim Angels, who had signed Vladimir Guerrero to a big deal after he balked at coming to the Orioles. In the WNST spirit of “local,” your sales rep cleared all of the seats in the right-centerfield bleachers in Sections 92 through 98 so we could ride Guerrero for nine innings for not selecting Baltimore in free agency. Signs. Chants. It was going to be fun!

The Opening Night of the 2004 season was quite memorable and frigidly cold. Pedro Martinez pitched for the Boston Red Sox as Camden Yards opened the MLB campaign with incredible electricity. It was a Ravens football feel at an Orioles game – very unique! Ask around town. Most people who were there will tell you it was one of the more “magical” nights in the history of the ballpark as Ponson beat Martinez and Orioles fans taunted Pedro with Bronx-style “Who’s your daddy?” chants.

A few weeks later in April, my lead salesman and partner reached to me with a slight problem with the Orioles account. It seems when he sent the final contract over he moved a decimal point on the contract and it read $3,000 instead of the $30,000 that was the going rate the previous two seasons. He said he’d work it out but the new guy involved at the Orioles was being difficult and trying to change the deal. By the first week of May it became quite clear that the Orioles expected WNST to deliver $30,000 of advertising for $3,000 based on a simple typo. I got on the phone with Greg Bader, who made it very clear that he believed his argument somehow had integrity. Mike Flanagan, who had become a family friend at this point, chatted with me and was aghast but helpless – a true sign that he was “in charge” at an Angelos-run business.

We had already sold more 800 tickets for the May 14th promotion and I wasn’t in a position to go on the radio and say: “The Orioles are trying to fuck WNST on a $30,000 deal.” Instead, I simply said this would be the final WNST “Night at the Ballpark” we’d be doing.

I’ve never told this story because, really…what’s the point?

As I type this it still boggles my mind – the lack of integrity, the lack of respect, the lack of simple decency. It is impossible to “negotiate” or “partner” with people who lack a moral compass to know basic right from wrong. You wouldn’t walk into a car dealership and expect a $30,000 car for $3,000. No one would.

No one but Peter G. Angelos and his Orioles representatives like Greg Bader.

But I’m a professional. I dreamed up the promotion. I launched the promotion. I sold the promotion. I promoted the promotion and a thousand of MY customer/listeners/fans were planning a night to defecate upon Vladimir Guerrero so I took the highest road possible. And I wasn’t going to go public with a sour business transaction with the Orioles. I actually held out hope that someone over there would come to their senses and be fair and reasonable.

That has never, ever been the case.

On Friday, May 14th, we had gathered a dozen friends to go to the Orioles game against the Angels and to drink some beer. It was a big weekend. It was the first Preakness of my marriage. We had just moved to the Inner Harbor. Lots of friends and family were in town for the race the next day. We dressed up spiffy because we were headed to see Mickey Cucchiella do some late night comedy at Burke’s after the game. My wife and her girlfriends were in dresses. It was a big night out in downtown for us and some of our favorite people. We wound up having over 1,000 WNST listeners in the bleachers – or “right field preferred” in your line of work – and watched the Orioles fall behind 9-0 in the second inning while Guerrero, Chone Figgins and the Angels circled the bases on Kurt Ainsworth.

In the fourth inning, The Oriole Bird entered our section with a two-gallon super soaker water machine gun and walked up to my row and assaulted me, my wife, our friend and anyone else who