Aug 24, 2023, 06:29AM

John Angelos Claims He Wants to “Re-Brand” Baltimore

More doubletalk from the Orioles CEO who’s putting a damper on team’s breakout season.

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Last week I wrote that the confused state of the Baltimore Orioles—on the ownership side, definitely not on the field, as the O’s currently are the American League’s best team and will be a force in the postseason—is the biggest story in Major League Baseball. And the ongoing doubletalk by franchise CEO and part-owner John Angelos adds to the trepidation local fans—some of whom remember when the legendary Baltimore Colts left for Indianapolis in 1984, making owner Robert Irsay more villainous than Donald Trump is today—have about their team’s future, which could be a “dynasty,” considering the spectacular core of young, and very good players on the club.

John Angelos (his father Peter, 94, is in failing health) is understandably press-shy, since the thinned-out local media is critical of his decisions, justifiably so, but he granted a rare interview recently to The New York Times’ Tyler Kepner—a fine baseball reporter, even though his paper’s de-emphasis on traditional sports has left him with few bylines (probably why he’s moving to Times-owned The Athletic)—and the perplexing story appeared on Monday, revealing what a kook (kind, some would say con-man) Angelos is. Reading between the lines, it appeared that Kepner wasn’t buying Angelos’ mumbo-jumbo, but dutifully recorded his comments, possibly for a follow-up story as the impasse between the state of Maryland and Angelos continues over the Orioles meeting a year-end deadline to extend the lease on the team’s showcase Camden Yards. Some O’s fans blasted Kepner’s on social media as a puff piece, “carrying water for the wealthy,” and while it’s true the reporter could’ve questioned Angelos’ bizarre statements more vigorously, I thought it was illuminating, and a springboard for a long Washington Post story soon.

This excerpt is remarkable: “[Angelos] generally keeps his distance from the field and the clubhouse, focusing on the business of the organization. His priority for now is not a lease extension—Angelos does not like the word lease—but a ‘public-private partnership’ that would reinvent the Camden Yards campus. The plans, naturally, would include the usual live-work-play stuff—residences, hotels, shops, restaurants, bars—that modern owners covet. But Angelos mentioned several other possibilities: an elementary school located in the warehouse, a health and wellness clinic, internship and mentorship programs for local youth. ‘People will speak about Baltimore like, ‘Wow, Baltimore is cutting-edge,’ which is what they said about Camden Yards [when the extremely influential stadium, copied by other franchises, opened in 1992, a year before Peter Angelos bought the team]. If we develop it right, and we include that impactful community program module, we can change the whole brand of Baltimore.”

I’m an even-keeled reader of sports and political stories, almost never taking the words at face value, but was forced to comb over the above a couple of times to convince myself Kepner wasn’t engaging in parody.

Baltimore desperately needs a new mayor—the election is next year—since the incumbent Brandon Scott is a passive and malleable executive, and Angelos’ sleight-of-hand chatter about “changing the whole brand of Baltimore” sounds like a campaign slogan. I did get a chuckle from the crazy idea of an elementary school included in “the Camden Yards campus,” but otherwise, Angelos’ stream of bullshit was an attempt to distract attention from the fact that Maryland has offered—begged!—the team $600 million of state money to make improvements and renovations and, unlike the neighboring football Ravens, Angelos hasn’t accepted.

Further down in Kepner’s article, Angelos demonstrates what a cheapskate CEO he is. He says a “small-market” team like the Orioles—really, it’s middle-market—can’t compete with MLB’s big spenders (never mind that the O’s won-loss record this year embarrasses high-payroll teams like the Mets, Yankees, Padres and Red Sox) and if he were to sign extensions with the growing core of stars like Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Ryan Mountcastle, Grayson Rodriguez, Cedric Mullins, etc. it would put the team financially “underwater” and he’d be forced to raise ticket prices “dramatically.”

This is nonsense. No expects Angelos to spend like Mets owner Steve Cohen, but the Tampa Bay Rays (less attendance than the O’s, less money) have traditionally locked up players for team-friendly contracts, just as the Atlanta Braves—maybe the best-run MLB franchise—have. Consider Henderson, who’s in the running for American League Rookie of the Year: he’s 22, and if offered eight years/$115 million it’s far-fetched to believe he’d turn it down. Win-win: Henderson’s set financially and the O’s have an outstanding player under control for eight seasons.

Does anyone buy John Angelos’ Oliver Twist routine? Doubtful. The team owns the majority share of tv station MASN, receives over $100 million from MLB’s revenue sharing, and this year is averaging 23,000 spectators per home game (that’s not near the top, but it’s an appreciable uptick from last year’s 18,000) and the tickets, as well as overpriced food and O’s merchandise, aren’t a buck apiece.

As a Baltimore resident (though Red Sox fan) I’ve written many times that a sale of the Orioles could make everyone happy. One sticking point: as long as Peter Angelos remains alive, the onerous tax implications of a sale may preclude such an outcome. (I’d guess that could be circumvented, given MLB’s and Maryland’s desire for new, relatively honest owners.) Meanwhile, if Angelos doesn’t sign a Camden Yards lease extension (it’s accepted he will, because he has to, but if his leverage—threat—against the state doesn’t work, he may not) where will the O’s play next year?

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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