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Trade Talk

By Russ Smith | Posted 2/8/2006

There are two once-iconic institutions in this city, The Sun and the Orioles, currently in dire straits. The former, a family-run company started in 1837, was first sold to Times Mirror Co. in 1986 and then swallowed up by Chicago’s Tribune Co. 14 years later. The result has been a precipitous decline in circulation, influence, and morale among the employees who haven’t been laid off or offered buyout packages.

The baseball franchise, which won the World Series just 12 years after relocating from St. Louis to Baltimore in 1954, is, under the ownership of attorney Peter Angelos, fast becoming the butt of jokes in the sports world. The team’s recent trade for the competent Kris Benson is most notable for the pitcher’s flamboyant wife, Anna.

Mrs. Benson, a former stripper who apparently was too outspoken about her sexual practices and political views for the New York Mets to countenance any longer, has been the subject of leering, ooh-la-la, hubba-hubba “quips” from any number of Sun scribes (Peter Schmuck the worst offender). In fairness, the paper’s reporters and bloggers are hard up for material—the O’s will be lucky to finish fourth in the American League East this year, thanks to another disastrous off-season.

So, before spring training begins, before The Sun engages in more union politics, fancy this quixotic idea: Angelos finally sells the Orioles, realizing a huge profit from his 1993 outlay of $173 million, and then offers to buy The Sun from Tribune. The wealthy Angelos is not young, a septuagenarian, but his family has no apparent interest in running the Orioles upon his passing, and besides, judging by the frequency his views on politics and city development are solicited, he doesn’t appear anxious to retire any time soon.

And it’s not as if Angelos has no interest in local newspapers; in fact, his jaundiced opinions of reporters might make an acquisition of The Sun desirable to him. On Nov. 18, 2002, in a Sun interview with Donna Owens, Angelos spoke in part about the reduction of his firm’s $1 billion fee from the state’s tobacco settlement to a mere $150 million. He was bitter, saying, “Moral of the story: Do not do business with tin-horned politicians, and keep away from the news media, whose systematic distortion of the truth seems to be the chief reason for their existence.”

Last Sunday, Feb. 5, Sun columnist Laura Vozzella noted some idle speculation that laugh-a-minute Robert Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, might have some interest in corralling a group of investors to buy the paper. Angelos is a skunk in my opinion, but he’d breathe more life into The Sun than Embry.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be the case 15 years ago, but now an Angelos swap of the Orioles for The Sun is a win-win situation. The ball club would likely have an enthusiastic and wealthy new owner—fans can only dream about someone as bright and entrepreneurial as the Los Angeles Angels’ Arte Moreno—who would hire a proactive general manager and pledge to field a competitive team once again at Camden Yards.

As for The Sun, Angelos is probably no more popular in the Calvert Street bunker than at the ballpark. Still, the city’s still-dominant daily would probably benefit from the ownership of a man, no matter how controversial, who’s actively engaged in the civic debate, as opposed to a Chicago conglomerate. Angelos couldn’t be expected, in this era of traditional media uncertainty, to lavish money on overseas bureaus or neglect the bottom line, but his passion for Baltimore would have to be an improvement over the present situation. Would it be a disaster for The Sun to abandon all pretenses of chasing its long-lost reputation as one of the premier national newspapers and instead redeploy resources to vigorously cover the region? I don’t think so.

This is merely the fantasy of one Baltimorean who’s sorry to witness the deterioration of the Orioles and The Sun. In the absence of such a startling development, Anna Benson will be the face of the O’s this season—save for the two weeks in June when Miguel Tejada again demands a trade—and The Sun, a throwaway compared to Tribune’s flagship Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Los Angeles Times, and its countless radio and TV stations, will increasingly flicker into irrelevance.

Mrs. Benson most recently made an ass of herself by criticizing former Ronald Reagan press secretary James Brady—who was partially paralyzed during the attempted assassination of the president in 1981—because of his gun-control advocacy. As reported by Lloyd Grove in the Feb. 3 New York Daily News, the self-described “pistol-packing mama” wrote on that “I think it is ridiculous that I am not allowed to protect myself in my private NY apartment because people like Jim Brady want to remove potential crime guns from the market.”

Yikes. I’m hardly an advocate of gun control, but tasteless jerks like Benson are about as articulate as the most zealous right- and left-wing scribblers in the blogosphere. And now, for lack of a charismatic superstar, she’s the face of the Baltimore Orioles.

Do the deal, Mr. Angelos.

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