Aug 17, 2023, 06:29AM

The Magnificent Baltimore Orioles and Their Dreadful Ownership

Fans hope the Angelos family sells to a local group of investors.

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The most important story in Major League Baseball today isn’t the investigation of Wander Franco, the Tampa Bay Rays’ 22-year-old superstar—which, if true, will end his career—but the continuing and multi-layered standoff between John Angelos (Baltimore Orioles CEO and part-owner of the family-controlled team) and the state of Maryland over just how much public money the team can hijack from taxpayers. Franco, whose alleged “friendship” with a minor has dominated baseball’s social media since Sunday, is just one individual, and while it’ll hurt the Rays enormously if he’s placed on indefinite “administrative leave” or banned altogether, it’s not in the same “league” as a sports organization playing dirty for a cash grab.

I wrote about the Orioles—who have the second-lowest MLB payroll, just ahead of the disintegrating Oakland A’s—last February and now, with six weeks left in the season, can say I was wrong and right. Like most, I didn’t expect the O’s would be in first place in the A.L. East division on August 17th—while the Red Sox and Yankees flounder—mostly because despite a uniquely talented group of young players, GM Mike Elias was hamstrung by ownership in acquiring two or three veteran players who could contribute and act as mentors in the clubhouse. We’ll see how the O’s fare down the stretch but apparently spashy additions weren’t necessary, not when Felix Bautista, the indomitable closer is having a phenomenal season, adding to the core of Adley Rutschman, Cedric Mullins, Gunnar Henderson, Ryan Mountcastle, Adam Frazier (a low-cost addition), Dean Kremer, Ryan O’Hearn, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez (who’s blossomed after a shaky start and stint in the minors) and Anthony Santander, among many others. (They did pick up pitcher Jack Flaherty from the Cardinals at the trade deadline.)

I’m a Bosox fan who lives in Baltimore, so on occasion I tune into the Orioles/Nationals TV network MASN, and unlike the very weird 2023 Sox, who play awful defense and sometimes sleepwalk through games, the O’s are an exciting team to watch. (Another recent story was ownership’s short suspension of MASN commentator Kevin Brown for doing his job—in this case pointing out that in the past the team didn’t play well at Tropicana Field—a move that (naturally) enraged not only other MLB TV and radio announcers, but Orioles fans in general. That was sorted out, and Brown’s back, although judging by his Twitter account, it appears he was given orders to be an over-the-top “homer,” something that occasional MASN “color” man Jim Palmer, the Orioles legend, would never countenance.

But I was correct in predicting that John Angelos, despite a promise to sign an extension on the lease for the still-classic Camden Yards (which expires on Dec. 31) at some point in the season, would balk at such an agreement. The state has offered the Orioles $600 million (like the Baltimore Ravens, who accepted and are working on improvements in around M&T Bank Stadium) in exchange for a long-term commitment, but now Angelos wants another $300 million, though he surely knows that won’t happen. Angelos is a master of double-talk, saying he wants to build restaurants, bars and real estate (like the Atlanta Braves publicly-funded “Battery” around their Truist Park) in the space between Camden Yards and the Ravens’ M&T, even though he knows the Ravens won’t agree. Angelos is playing up his relationship with first-term Democratic Gov. Wes Moore—the Orioles con man contributed $6000 to Brown’s campaign last year—but as of this week neither side is commenting on the impasse.

From a four-byline August 10th Baltimore Banner story: “Angelos isn’t going to get his wish for development on the parking lots, nor will he receive an extra $300 million that he’s asking for from the state, according to another source who also has knowledge of the lease negotiations but requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.” Gov. Moore, speaking to reporters last week, might be reconsidering his tenuous alliance with John Angelos. He issued this anodyne statement and didn’t elaborate further: “There is a core belief that this is about what we need to do to create a winner on the field, but I’m also committed to making sure that this is a win for Baltimore, and this is a win for the state of Maryland.”

I suspect John Angelos, against the wishes of his brother Louis and mother Georgia (the patriarch Peter Angelos, 94, is out of the picture as he’s in failing health) wants to move the team to Nashville, where he has a home. It’s a quandary for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred since he doesn’t want the turmoil of a team moving, and says he’ll easily corral the votes from other MLB owners to prevent that, but he’s faced with a dysfunctional ownership group that isn’t serving the interest of the team, its fans or Baltimore. By far the best solution is that a local business group makes an offer to buy the team, which is probably worth $1.8 billion, and the nightmare Angelos regime would be history.

Meanwhile, barring a miraculous Red Sox resurgence, I’d like to see an O’s-Braves World Series.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023

  • If I were an Orioles fan I would ignore the ownership turmoil for the time being and enjoy the product on the field which is having one of its best seasons in decades.

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