Replacement players? He was the only owner who didn't sign any. A
salary cap? He voted no. Midway through last year's 232-day
baseball strike he gave a thunderous speech to his fellow
owners, comparing their hard-line negotiating strategy to "mass
financial suicide" and Jonestown. "When do we pass out the
Kool-Aid?" Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos demanded to know.
This is an article from the March 12, 1996 issue
And how about the time Angelos said that acting commissioner Bud
Selig's attempts to address baseball's problems were
"amateurish, ineffective and doomed to failure. Watching him is
like watching a person stick his hand in a buzz saw. You want
to shout, 'Hey! You're spattering blood all over the rest of us!'"
What about that comment? "Welllll...." Angelos chuckles now.
"Kinda harsh, don't you think?"
It was no more scathing than his remark that opening spring
training in 1995 without major league players was "Selig's
delusion. Ill-conceived, ill-advised, bizarre, ludicrous and
unconscionable." Angelos uttered this last Jan. 22, the day he
found out--by reading it in the newspaper--that baseball's
expansion committee had named a dark-horse candidate from the
Northern Virginia-Washington area as one of four finalists in
the race for an expansion franchise.
Angelos's Orioles play just 40 miles north of Washington, and he
says they draw 25% to 30% of their fans from the D.C. metro
area. Referring to the decision of the owners on the committee,
Angelos said, "They're going to retaliate against me, those
"Well ... ha-ha-ha," Angelos says now, trying to suppress
another grin. "That's probably the terminology of a combative
trial attorney. I didn't say it for effect. I said it because I
believed it. On reflection, maybe I could've toned it down a bit."
Aw ... you think so?
No owner is more disliked by his baseball brethren. And now,
after months of wheeling and dealing, Angelos has given his
peers something else to chew on: With newly hired general
manager Pat Gillick in the fold, Davey Johnson now managing the
team, and a roster beefed up by an off-season binge that brought
in All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, infielder B.J.
Surhoff, outfielder Mike Devereaux and pitchers Roger McDowell,
Kent Mercker, Randy Myers and David Wells, the Orioles have put
themselves in position to win the American League East in 1996.
Angelos might have hired Johnson away from Cincinnati a year
earlier, when he first had the chance, had he known Johnson
would go on to appraise one of the Reds' trades this way:
"Cleveland sent us three replacement players and Cleveland got
none? Well ... I'd have to say Cleveland got the better end of
Sounds like an Angelos kinda guy.
By the time 1995 spring training began, Angelos had already
declared himself "at war" with Selig and had sparred verbally
with baseball's now-deposed chief negotiator, Richard Ravitch.
Angelos was the maverick owner who voted against the
near-unanimous majority on almost every major proposal.
Continuing the arrangement that preserved Selig's role as acting
commissioner? No. Signing a document that blamed the
cancellation of the '94 playoffs and World Series on the
players? No again.
Angelos has always insisted that he had more support among the
other owners than the vote tallies indicated. But to this day he
won't name names. "It's like the Witness Protection Program,"
Angelos likes to joke.
Of all his contrary positions, nothing brought Angelos as much
attention as his refusal to hire replacement players last spring.
In the end he was held up by many as the only owner who had made
sense. He was lionized as a man of unshakable conviction, a
millionaire friend of labor, a guy who never forgot his roots as
a union lawyer. Says Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro,
"There are players who've flat out told me they'd take less
money to play for Peter because of the stands he took."
There is something transfixing about a man with the guts to risk
the censure of his business partners, cast the partisan morass
of his industry aside and take off on a naked bootleg--all as a
matter of principle. For months Angelos wouldn't even utter the
word replacements; he preferred scrubs or pickup players
instead. And when his fellow owners threatened to fine him
$250,000 per game or take his franchise away if he didn't go
along, the 66-year-old Angelos rose to his full 5'6" height,
creased his rubbery face into his best barrister's sneer and
dared the other owners to try it, just try it.
Then he used logic like a lance.
Citing a famous phrase in baseball's bylaws, Angelos said he
would like to hear someone argue that it was in "the best
interests of the game" to offer the American public pickup
players as a substitute for real major leaguers. Besides wanting
to protect Baltimore shortstop Cal Ripken's pursuit of Lou
Gehrig's record of 2,130 consecutive games played, Angelos says
his dissent was fueled by his staunch belief that you can't
"replace" major leaguers. "They are the best of the best," he
"If there were indeed so many replacements, it would seem to me
there wouldn't be this much argument over salary level," Angelos
says. "You'd just reach out, pick up five or six more players,
and pay them what you please. So it was a self-delusion. And it
was denigrating the game--I mean, seriously, what the hell. The
only question was, would an owner say it, that's all. I mean,
for that I've been praised in The New York Times more times than
Harry Truman. And I don't think I've really got it coming."
As popular as his strike stances were, as successful as he has
been at pulling off coups like signing Alomar and luring
Gillick--the architect of the Toronto Blue Jays' success--out of
retirement, Angelos has been nagged by hometown criticism that
he's a meddlesome owner.
In his first two seasons as owner, 1994 and '95, Angelos fired
two managers (Johnny Oates and Phil Regan). He openly sought
candidates for a new general manager in September, though the
fate of the then G.M., Roland Hemond, had not yet been decided.
For good measure, last year Angelos bruised the feelings of
Orioles legends Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson. Brooks was
miffed when the Orioles tried to take over the running of the
team's off-season fantasy camps, pushing aside a friend of his.
And Angelos passed over Frank for the G.M. job that went to
Gillick. A few days after hiring Gillick, Angelos talked Frank
out of resigning as assistant general manager; but a few days
later, Robinson was called into a 9:30 a.m. meeting and told by
two of Angelos's lieutenants that his contract was not going to
be renewed. At his goodbye press conference, a stunned Frank
Robinson choked back tears.
At last count, at least 66 members of the Orioles' 90-person
front-office staff have left the club since Angelos and a
20-investor group bought the team in August 1993. While
acknowledging Angelos's right to hire his own people, a departed
Orioles executive says, "I don't think there was as much
sensitivity to feelings as there might have been along the way.
Remember, this was a franchise that led the league in revenues
and earnings [in '93]. It was not like you had to go in and
wreak havoc to get it organized."
The Orioles led the American League in attendance last season,
and they expect to lead the league again with 3.7 million fans
in 1996. But in contrast to his predecessor, Eli Jacobs, Angelos
has always maintained that he should take his $25 million or so
per season in profits and plow it into player salaries.
Baltimore's payroll leaped from $28 million in '93 to a bit over
$47 million in '95 and '96--yet another fact that has rankled
rival owners in an era when 18 of baseball's 28 teams are
bleating about financial distress.
But Angelos is not repentant; his fiscal policy is an indication
of his commitment to winning. "We owe it to our fans to field
the best possible team," he says.
Though Angelos has spent big before, bringing sluggers Palmeiro
and Bobby Bonilla to town, this past off-season signaled that
the Orioles are in a direct and all-out arms race with the New
York Yankees and their owner, George Steinbrenner--the
counterpart with whom Angelos is most often compared.
First, the Orioles beat the Yankees to Alomar while New York won
the fight for pitcher David Cone. When Gillick answered with a
trade for 16-game winner Wells from Cincinnati, the Yankees
signed Texas free-agent pitcher Kenny Rogers the next day to a
four-year, $20 million contract--this after Yankees G.M. Bob
Watson had said the team didn't have the money to buy another
pitcher after signing Cone.
When asked if he watches what Steinbrenner does, Angelos shrugs
and says, "No. At least I try not to, because I don't want to
react to what he does.
"I'm not knocking George," Angelos adds. "He's just irrational."
Oh? You could argue that there has been a certain
Steinbrenneresque flair to some of Angelos's behavior. In 1994
Angelos grabbed headlines for ordering Oates to start reserve
Leo Gomez ahead of Chris Sabo at third base. Last summer he
groused that Hemond's failure to carry out his order to sign
outfielder Ron Gant was tantamount to an act of insubordination.
Like other owners, Angelos makes decisive calls on the team's
biggest moves--killing the Cone deal by insisting on a
deferred-money arrangement, for example. Or choosing to nab
Palmeiro over 1994's other big free-agent first baseman, Will
Clark. ("Jeez, that guy!" Angelos says of Clark, now with the
Texas Rangers. "I've looked at medicals for 30 years as a
lawyer, and that guy had the injuries of an infantryman!") While
many of his calls have been uncannily correct, Angelos hardly
inspired confidence when he told a Washington reporter early on
that most of his baseball expertise came from his son John, then
a 26-year-old law student at the University of Baltimore and a
Rotisserie baseball devotee.
Angelos believes that such stories--especially the ones calling
him "the guy who makes out the lineup"--were the reason Gillick
initially resisted his overtures and canceled two scheduled
visits before finally agreeing to an interview. Says Gillick,
"What I didn't care for was that they were interviewing people
for the [G.M.] position when they really didn't determine what
Hemond's and Regan's positions were. Then they went ahead and
hired the manager before they hired the general manager. I
thought they were putting the cart before the horse."
Gillick says it made a difference to him that the man hired was
Johnson, whose .576 winning percentage is the highest among
"Too many G.M.'s make the mistake of being intimidated by
ownership," says Gillick. But he need not worry; Angelos swears
he's committed to leaving the day-to-day calls to his new
baseball men. The question is, can he be believed? This is the
man, remember, who rejected Selig's behind-the-scenes
admonishments to tone down by saying, "I don't think I'm the
kind of man you tell to shut up.
"It radiates from me not to talk to me that way," says Angelos.
"Since the day I was born, I spoke out."
If Angelos were a movie star, he would be Jimmy Cagney juicing
grapefruit after grapefruit on the faces of his fellow owners.
Yet, depending on the audience or the topic, he may lapse into
the argot of a lawyer, marbling his sentences with moreover's
and thereby's. He has a growling baritone voice and a habit of
punching up certain words for emphasis--Says WHO? Why SHOULD I?
Everything about him, from his straight-backed bearing to his
impatience with timidity and shallowness in people, suggests
brazen self-assurance. Still, he's capable of a disarming lack
Deep down he remains the garrulous guy who grew up in a row
house in East Baltimore, enjoyed a brief career as an amateur
boxer and came of age tending bar for the steelworkers and
refinery men in a corner tavern owned by his parents, Greek
immigrants. (Angelos's opening line when he interviewed Tony La
Russa for the Orioles manager's job last fall was, "So. You
When he wasn't at the tavern, Angelos attended the University of
Baltimore Law School at night, graduating in 1960 as
valedictorian of his class. He then opened a one-man practice
downtown. One of his first clients was a 10,000-member
steelworkers' union. At 29 he had won a city council seat. At 37
he ran for mayor on Baltimore's first biracial ticket. Even
then, Angelos was a provocateur. He lit up the campaign with
rafter-shaking debates but wound up alienating the city's
Democratic establishment and lost. Big.
From there, Angelos focused on his law practice. Rivals say he's
a quick study, a pugnacious advocate, a brilliant strategist who
rarely relies on notes. Today his firm has 85 attorneys and
operates offices in five states. Yet he has never taken on an
equal partner, explaining that he prefers to make all the
decisions for his firm by himself. By the 1970s Angelos was
making as much as $1 million a year. But his practice--and his
life--changed forever when he agreed to represent several
steelworkers who came to him in the late '70s with persistent
coughs that they blamed on exposure to asbestos at their
Those cases mushroomed into a consolidated action suit against
the asbestos industry involving more than 8,500 plaintiffs. A
decade into the battle, Angelos turned down a settlement offer
of $200 million. When the offer was quickly raised to $250
million, he said no again--touching off four more years of legal
wrangling that drained his personal assets and put his firm
several million dollars in debt. In 1992 Angelos's obstinacy and
daring paid off: He won settlements approaching $1 billion, and
his standard lawyer's share of one third--or more than $300
million--made him one of the richest men in America. Overnight.
Shortly thereafter, novelist Tom Clancy, a Baltimore native,
came calling with an idea.
Angelos has always believed that his goal in life was not to
secure wealth but rather to establish value and high regard in
He's fond of saying that his dad raised him according to the
"immigrant's credo"--work hard, don't quit, always be on the
level. He's a social democrat to the marrow, a man who calls the
American labor movement "one of the key happenings in this
country in the 20th century" and insists that both his law firm
and the Orioles buy American. (When Angelos first discovered
that Oates drove a Japanese car, he called his manager right
away--during spring training, at the ballpark, in the middle of
a game. Soon Oates was driving a Ford.)
As recently as two years ago, Angelos was being urged to run for
the Maryland governor's office, soon to be vacated by his close
friend William Donald Schaefer. Angelos still has strong
political connections and travels the state to deliver speeches
on ambitious themes such as "the condition of the American scene."
His concern for the city of Baltimore also runs deep. So when
Clancy approached him about mounting a local effort to restore
an NFL team to Baltimore, Angelos's retort was, "What about the
Orioles?" Jacobs was financially troubled, and the baseball team
was already for sale.
"Well, Clancy and his guy told me, 'No, no. That's all arranged.
Other buyers need not inquire or apply.' And I said, 'Says
WHO?'" Angelos recalls. "They said, 'It's going to be bought by
the DeWitt group out of Cincinnati.' I said, 'Well, I think
that's--excuse me--bull. Why should they buy the team?'"
DeWitt indeed had an arrangement to buy the Orioles from Jacobs
for $145 million. But the deal fell through when Jacobs's
unsecured creditors in New York decided to force Jacobs into
Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This led to the sale of the team at
Asked now if he had anything to do with the DeWitt deal's
falling through, Angelos arches his eyebrows, purses his lips
and chuckles like a guy with his hand caught on your wallet.
"Well, yeah. Sure. I was workin' that angle," he says. "I called
those bankers up, and I was telling them, 'This team will bring
more money!' They said, 'How do you know that?' I said, 'Just
put it up for sale. You'll find out.'"
The auction took place on Aug. 2, 1993, in a jam-packed
courtroom in New York City. By then, DeWitt had been wooed into
the Angelos-led group as a minority investor. A team led by an
executive of Beatrice Foods showed up to bid too, as well as a
surprise bidder: a New York art dealer named Jeffrey Loria, who
rose along with his lawyer and told the court, "Your honor,
we're going to buy this team, and we don't care what the
previous arrangements are."
"I said, 'Listen to this guy....'" Angelos recalls.
When the auction commenced, the Beatrice team kept passing while
Angelos and Loria bid past $150 million, then past $160 million.
At that point one of Angelos's worried sidemen whispered, "We're
past our number," and Angelos growled under his breath, "If it's
worth 160 to them, it's worth 160 to us! We didn't come here to
let this thing be purchased by some out-of-towner."
By the time the bidding hit $170 million, the atmosphere in the
room was electric. The Beatrice group dropped out but made a
motion to caucus with Loria's team. Angelos protested
vociferously, but the judge overruled him, explaining that he
was obligated to get the most he could for the team. "So these
guys come back," Angelos says, "and the bidding went up to 172.
I finally said, 'Goddammit, I'm going to bid 175!' And all these
guys grabbed me by my jacket and said, 'Don't do it! Don't do
it!'--which was smart, see, because it would've cost us another
two million for sure if they hadn't."
Angelos wags his head at the memory and laughs. His next bid
sealed it: The final price was an astounding $173 million, the
most ever paid for a sports franchise. "Pretty much all the
baseball bigwigs were there, and of course they liked the size
of the price," Angelos says.
Then he pauses.
"They also thought they were watching a bunch of lunatics," he
says. Little did Angelos know that it was to be the last time he
would enjoy his fellow owners' unabashed affection.
Once he had ensured that the Orioles would remain under local
ownership, Angelos tried to bring NFL football back to
Baltimore. He unsuccessfully pursued the Los Angeles Rams, then
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before shifting his sights to an
expansion team. "And we'd have gotten one too," Angelos insists.
He even met with cantankerous Washington Redskins owner Jack
Kent Cooke in the offices of Maryland congresswoman Helen
Bentley in hopes of persuading the 83-year-old Cooke to drop his
objections to Baltimore's regaining an NFL team.
Not that the meeting went swimmingly.
"What a terrible guy," Angelos says. "I got into it with him."
Cooke's over-the-top, aristocratic mien long ago earned him the
nickname the Squire. Angelos says he and Cooke weren't long into
their talk when Cooke looked at him askance and asked, "Who is
"I said, 'My TAILOR? I don't have a tailor, Jack. I buy my
clothes off the rack.' He said, 'That's what I thought!' Then he
went like this [thumbing his lapel], and he said, 'Savile Row.
Savile Row.' Seriously. Then he said, 'You probably don't even
know what that is.' Finally, I'm thinking, Why, this ol'
bastard, I'm gonna give it back to him.
"Now, Helen is sitting there--she brought all these crab cakes
and things, and she was hosting us--and he's giving me all this
crap. He said he'd had detectives following me. He said, 'I know
more about yooooou than you knoooow about yourself. You think
you're so smart.' He said, 'I've checked you out, and I have
more money than you'll ever THINK about having.' So I said,
'First of all, let's get something straight: You're nothing but
a goddam carpetbagger.'
"Well, when I said that, he got all mad and he started shaking
and he said, 'HEL-LEN! I will not sit here and talk to this
CUR!' And Helen would whisper, 'Peter, Peter ...' And I thought,
I'll tell that old son of a bitch--and he was sitting right
there, he could hear me insulting him, you know. I said, 'You're
a carpetbagger. You've never paid any taxes to the state of
Maryland. Who are YOU to start dictating to the people of
Maryland?' And I'm really on his case. Helen had these plastic
wine glasses, like champagne glasses, and we were drinking this
wine, and he's squeezing his glass, his plastic glass. I'm
making these various statements to him and he's furious! He
wants to hit me--in fact, I think he said he was gonna hit me.
"He went on and on about how he made all this money as an
encyclopedia salesman. I was still telling him he should remove
his objections to a Baltimore team, and he said, 'I want it
all.' That's what he said: 'I ... WANT ... IT ... ALL.' And he's
still squeezing the glass. Now, I'm looking at it and all of a
sudden it's becoming elongated and I'm thinking, Oh, look at
that--and suddenly it goes crack!--and wine goes all over his
trousers. His Savile Roooow.
"I take out my handkerchief and I run over and put my arm around
him. And he didn't want me to even touch him. I said, 'Oh, my.
All over your Savile Row suit.' And I'm wiping. And he's
saying--ho, you should have heard him--he's screaming,
'HELENNNN!' and she was so embarrassed she's whispering, 'Peter,
Peter, Peter ...' and I said, 'Hey, I'm just putting the old son
of a bitch on.' So he stalked out of the place."
"Completely untrue. Ridiculous. Why, this is the most
preposterous thing I've ever heard!" Cooke retorts when asked to
comment on his discussion with Angelos. Though Bentley
corroborates Angelos's account of the conversation ("Do I
remember it?" she groans. "I have a vivid recollection of it"),
Cooke indignantly denies everything but the assertion that he
and Angelos didn't get along very well. Asked what might
account for the different versions of the events, Cooke says,
"He's a congenital liar!"
Then he brightly adds, "But you, you're a darling to call!"
The day after the meeting, Angelos sent Cooke a box of Godiva
chocolates and a note that read "Just in case our meeting left a
bad taste in your mouth, here. This might help you out."
"I never heard from him," Angelos says with a belly laugh.
Cooke's reason for not calling Angelos back? "Chocolate's no
good for you," he sniffs.
As baseball's labor negotiations moved on through mid-January,
Angelos now stood in support of the path they were taking. His
new moderation could be taken one of two ways: Either Angelos
had undergone a substantial change of heart, or the owners'
approach had changed.
Angelos said both were true. As he pointed out, there had been
no talk of replacements, no talk of a lockout, no talk of a
strike. Bargaining seemed to be progressing, if still glacially.
"But all the reports coming back are good," he said. As of early
February, as SI went to press, Angelos hadn't lobbed any hand
grenades into the owners' foxhole for months.
He said he was optimistic that both sides would hammer out an
agreement, "and it will be good"--probably something lasting six
or seven years, with a revenue-sharing plan and a tax on
payrolls. Why, Angelos was now saying that Selig was "trying his
best" and deserved rave reviews for baseball's rich new TV deal.
"Credit must be given where credit is due," Angelos said. "It's
amazing what Selig did."
Still, it will take a while for the owners' hard feelings toward
Angelos to go away. Owners asked to comment about him usually
respond with chilly silence. Or a reproach. Chicago White Sox
owner Jerry Reinsdorf sent word through a spokesperson that
"he'd pass." An intermediary for Boston Red Sox owner John
Harrington said that Harrington "wasn't interested." Atlanta
Braves president Stan Kasten, a member of baseball's negotiating
team, said Angelos's behavior during the strike was
"regrettable" and added that he doesn't buy Angelos's
trial-attorney background as an excuse for his strong language.
"All these owners are rugged individualists," Kasten says.
"Someone of Peter's intellect and ability should have, could
have, been more helpful within the system.... Why cut yourself
And Selig? While insistent that his relationship with Angelos
has always been "businesslike" and "cordial," Selig adds, "In
the 1970s, back when I came in, I don't think I opened my mouth
in a league meeting for two years.... In most labor situations,
you don't see people popping off. We all want to make a deal.
Look, don't make our job more difficult than it is."
But the passage of a year, the benefit of hindsight, raises an
obvious question: Was Angelos wrong? Or merely loud?
Indisputably, the replacements were a disaster. Angelos's
comment about "mass financial suicide" wasn't too far off
either. The owners lost an estimated $700 million in '94 and
another $200 million to $300 million in the truncated season of
'95. He now admits he was "frustrated" when some of his
constructive suggestions were ignored. He thought full
disclosure of the teams' books could shatter the players'
argument that baseball's financial crisis was overstated and
earn ownership some much-needed points in the court of public
opinion. But look what happened instead: The owners looked
mighty disingenuous when they tried to pass off the Los Angeles
Dodgers--by all appearances wildly successful--as one of the 18
teams that allegedly couldn't make a buck. "That damaged us,"
The Dodgers' claim notwithstanding, Angelos has always agreed
with ownership's contention that baseball's overall financial
condition is dire and real. If Angelos regrets anything about
the recent past, it's the tenor of his dissent.
Baseball's last eight labor talks have led to eight work
stoppages. Angelos now admits he really didn't understand how
much "the old wounds and attitudes were still festering on both
sides." And when other owners tried to explain that to him? "I
didn't accept it at the time," he says.
"I had the advantage, or what appeared to be the advantage, of
just coming into it," Angelos explains. "I had no animus, and I
could say, 'Gentlemen, let's sit down and talk about this
reasonably.' But reasonably discussing these things simply
wasn't going to work. They'd been through a quarter century of
open warfare. In a way, both sides almost had to go through this
crucible--the strike. And I think it has left both sides sobered."
Indeed. San Diego Padres president Larry Lucchino wryly refers
to last year's 232-day strike as "baseball's nuclear winter."
And the irony is that it was a totally unscripted scene in
Angelos's very own ballpark--Ripken taking off on a jog around
the warning track at the stadium, slapping hands with fans on
the night he broke Gehrig's record--that started baseball's
recovery. It wasn't anything Angelos or Selig or any of
baseball's other bigwigs said.
On that night at Camden Yards, the banners reading 2,131 simply
unfurled on the old warehouse wall beyond the rightfield fence,
the camera flashes never stopped popping, and the applause just
thundered on and on and on. In that one pure moment, the TV
cameras captured tears welling up in nearly everyone's eyes,
including Joe DiMaggio's.
Maybe it was the memory of Gehrig's tragic story; maybe it was
the genuine joy Ripken showed. Maybe, too, it was the
unarticulated feeling that the owners and the union had finally
been elbowed aside; that all the pettiness and bitterness, the
hate talk and greed, had been transcended. What was left was the
hometown fans and their favorite player showing their mutual
appreciation. And it was not just any ballplayer, but a
throwback player in a throwback ballpark, who was being
celebrated for, of all things, showing up for work every day.
The symbolism couldn't be missed.
Baseball is smartly promising an uninterrupted season in 1996.
That prospect alone gives Angelos considerable cause for cheer.
But when asked if his newfound temperance is here to stay, he
hesitates. Then he can't help it--a smirk flickers across his
bemused face and a laugh escapes. As he spoke, the owners'
meetings were just a couple of weeks away. "Better ask me then,"
is all he says.