The Peter Principles (Ch. 8) – That time Peter Angelos tried to buy the Washington Redskins

June 28, 2017 | Nestor Aparicio

watching the Baltimore Orioles continue to lose on the field.

A week after the Cuba trip, the Orioles’ 1999 season got underway and was an absolute train wreck in every way imaginable as the franchise continued to slide into the abyss. Pride was slipping. Confidence was low. Ray Miller proved to be a poor excuse for a leader but was fully and completely supported by Peter G. Angelos, mainly because he was hand picked by the owner. And the embarrassment and shame for anyone associated with the continued madness made explanations almost impossible from inside the organization.

And Angelos never, ever faced the media or took questions at a press conference. Questions from anyone – fans, media or sponsors alike – were never allowed. He deftly played relationships with sports writers at The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post over his first few years with varous ideologies and tit-for-tat favors, including his Marylander Of The Year designation. But, he had clearly become quite unpopular amongst anyone associated with Orioles baseball as his fingerprints were all over the mess that the franchise had become publicly.

The team began the season with an $84 million payroll and was loaded with superstar players. The Orioles beat Tampa Bay, 10-7, on Opening Day and proceeded to lose 17 of their next 23 games. By the time the Cuban team came to Baltimore – fortified by adding slugger Orestes Kindelan to their loaded, MLB-ready lineup – the Orioles were 7-17 and already 9 ½ games back in the AL East race. The players were tired, depleted and this game on May 3, 1999 was simply an exhibition game – nothing was at stake for a bunch of millionaire, American-fed baseball players.

If Castro benefited briefly in his homeland by obtaining the March game in Havana with a real Major League Baseball club then this trip to Baltimore for his Cuban team would prove to be his ultimate reward. The Orioles were a rudderless, sinking franchise in chaos throwing a rehabbing Scott Kamienecki to the hill against a team full of determined national heroes who had one night to show everyone in the world that Cuba had great beisbol players under the familiar bright lights of Camden Yards, where Cal Ripken Jr. made history in 1995.

This time, Fidel Castro watched from his palace in Havana. Every Cuban was out in the streets, gathering for this monumental game with enthusiasm and orgullo.

Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post summed up the night with this lead from his May 4, 1999, column:

The all-stars of Cuba played with 40 years of national pride at stake Monday night at Camden Yards. The Orioles played for their tattered professional reputations. And probably the job of their manager, Ray Miller, as well.

At precisely midnight, after the Cubans had erupted in the ninth inning for five insurance runs for a 12-3 lead, the Orioles walked off the field under a hail of cheers from a few hundred Cuban fans and a thunder of boos from several thousand Baltimore fans.

Only one question was left in the air: Was this the most embarrassing defeat in the history of U.S. baseball? What would even rank as No. 2?

It wasn’t just the defeat, which wasn’t an embarrassment because the Cuban players were world class and no one denied that fact. It was, instead, the lousy effort and sportsmanship shown by multi-millionaires bitching about playing baseball on their off night while oppressed peasants who were essentially enslaved to Fidel Castro played beisbol with their hearts and embarrassed the Orioles players in a rout.

The atmosphere behind home plate was a full-on Latin American baseball celebration with drums and noisemakers. But it was apparent that the Orioles players weren’t very interested in participating in the second game of this “goodwill” series.

While a slug with a $65 million contract like Albert Belle jogged out a ground ball that he might’ve easily turned into an infield hit, Cuban slugger Andy Morales blew Caribbean kisses into the rainy Baltimore sky as he rounded third base with an emotional three-run homer late into the night that sealed the Orioles fate. The game had a 56-minute rain delay and was interrupted several times by flag-waving fans on the field and sign-bearing protesters, including one fan with a “Cuba Si, Castro No” sign who was tackled and body-slammed by second base umpire Cesar Valdez.

Even if freedom of speech wasn’t allowed at Camden Yards, free swinging was on the Cuban side. As the old expression says: “You don’t walk off the island.”

The Orioles were out hit 14-3. The Cubans stranded 12 runners and still won 12-3. Scott Kamienecki lasted just 1 1/3 innings. Doug Linton, Rickey Bones, Mike Fetters and Gabe Molina fared no better vs. Cuba than they were faring against the rest of Major League Baseball bats. Calvin Pickering made three errors at first base while Will Clark and Cal Ripken took the night off.

After the game, an embarrassed Ray Miller told the media: “It was very apparent that they wanted it much more than we did on an individual basis.”

A bunch of fat-cat American ballplayers couldn’t muster up the energy to play hard. It was a national disgrace and a poor reflection on modern Major League Baseball.

And it said “Orioles” on the crest.

“That was a disaster,” Albert Belle later today told USA Baseball Weekly. “We never should have played. That’s why I was so upset. One game is fine. It was fun. You got all your questions answered. But the second game was mentally draining. So that’s why I just stood at the plate. I didn’t want to be there. It was cold and rainy. The field was wet. I thought to myself, ‘Great, just how I want to spend my off-day.’ ”

Meanwhile, in the visiting locker room, Cuba was having a celebration for the ages. “We’re having a national party right now,” third baseman Omar Linares said. “This is the day we were waiting for.”

The Cubans boarded their plane at BWI and returned to Havana as national heroes with a parade. Meanwhile, the Orioles picked up the dreadful 1999 season in progress and there was no end in sight for their slide.

 

(Author note: This is Chapter 8 of my book “The Peter Principles,” which I was working to finish in March 2014 when my wife was diagnosed with leukemia the first time. I will be releasing the entire book for free online this summer – chapter by chapter. These are the true chronicles of the history of Peter G. Angelos and his ownership of the Baltimore Orioles. If you enjoy the journey, please share the links with a friend.)