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Angelos’ New Clothes

By Russ Smith | Posted 2/2/2005

What a shame that 36-year-old Sammy Sosa can’t pitch as well as cork bats and bum out his teammates.

Until Sun columnist Laura Vecsey lampooned the Orioles’ trade for “cartoon symbol” Sosa on Jan. 30, I was beginning to wonder. Some of her recent articles read more like auditions for public relations czar of the O’s rather than an observer of the team’s off-season activity. On Jan. 11, for example, Vecsey applauded Angelos for his attempt to extort a monetary settlement from Major League Baseball because it had the audacity to approve the Montreal Expos’ move to Washington, D.C. She began with a scare tactic: “There is at least one thing worse for Baltimore baseball fans to consider than the Orioles’ inability and/or unwillingness to upgrade the team this winter. That would be a willingness on the part of the Orioles to trade their most expensive player. Like, say, Miguel Tejada.”

Angelos is an experienced and successful lawyer who just happens to be an awful owner of a sports franchise. He’s also ill served by his co-general managers, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, who make Hamlet seem like one impulsive guy. When the O’s lost out in the bidding for Carlos Delgado, Angelos told reporters, “You can say I’m disappointed, but on the other hand, I’m pleased that we’re not party to this financial insanity that has taken hold of the game.”

Forget that Angelos has a mixed record when it comes to “financial insanity” in signing free agents, and concentrate on the depressing fact that the O’s, in the name of fiscal prudence, are likely to reward their loyal fan base with an eighth consecutive losing season. Apparently, according to Vecsey, the extremely wealthy Angelos has loftier goals in mind. She argued: “For Baltimore, and for the state of Maryland, which floated bonds to pay for Camden Yards, what Angelos is doing is an act of civic responsibility and duty. Baseball may be a child’s game . . . [b]ut the business of baseball is another animal entirely. Like, say, a pit bull.”

Is it an act of “civic responsibility” to let pique and fear of the nearby Washington Nationals—a team that still doesn’t have an owner—dictate a small-market mentality of giving up and simply complaining? That’s an abdication of responsibility, one that will deprive Baltimore of a winning baseball team in addition to increased revenue—not only for the club but surrounding businesses near the park—and he shouldn’t be let off the hook.

The day after Vecsey stuck up for Angelos, one of her colleagues at The Sun, John Eisenberg, dissented, correctly predicting that the O’s failure to improve the team could have far more dire consequences than the debut of the Nationals. He wrote, a few weeks before the desperation trade for Sosa, “By doing virtually nothing after seven straight losing seasons, the front office is blatantly taking the fans for granted, assuming they will just continue to show up regardless what happens.”

You need only recall the excitement last April, when Tejada and Javy Lopez joined the team, and how difficult it was to buy decent seats before the season even started. I doubt there’s a similar stampede at the box office today.

On Jan. 25, Vecsey was doing Angelos’ bidding again, after Delgado signed with the Marlins. “[Angelos] has not and will not expose the franchise to long-term contracts, not when the Orioles estimate they lose between $20 million and $30 million a year with the arrival of the Nationals.” This is pure propaganda: The Orioles tried to sign Carl Pavano for several years; they lost out on ace Tim Hudson because the Oakland A’s wouldn’t allow Beattie/Flanagan an exclusive period to negotiate a long-term deal; and were willing to give Delgado a four-year contract.

And what have the O’s general managers been doing all winter? Maybe the owner has given the pair strict financial parameters, but couldn’t they muster a little creativity? For example, the miserable Devil Rays, who have a microscopic payroll, just signed Hideo Nomo to a minor-league contract and will pay him $800,000 if he makes the cut in spring training, which he will. Nomo’s no Randy Johnson, but he does have a career record of 118-101 with a 4.05 ERA and, with a potent Orioles offense, could probably win 15 games. Similarly, the Red Sox signed Wade Miller, a terrific pitcher for the Astros who was sidelined by injuries last season, to a one-year $1.5 million deal that could escalate by $3 million if a bundle of incentives are met.

Where were Beattie and Flanagan (and the O’s scouting staff) when other general managers took a look in the bargain bin?

Beattie told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick on Jan. 26, “We would have loved to do more this offseason. . . . [But] I’ve never believed in doing something just for the sake of doing it.”

That sentiment is likely to be echoed in June, when the O’s are again below .500, by Baltimore (and D.C.) fans who decide to skip a night at Camden Yards because they too aren’t interested in “doing something for the sake of doing it.”

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