The headlining photo of a glossy spread that hit The New York Times on Monday morning featured not a player, a coach or a baseball operations executive from the team that still leads the American League.
It was John Angelos, standing alone. He’s the exact figure in the Baltimore Orioles we all could use a little less of in the news cycle.
If you’re one of those fans who wants to feel good about the future of their team, bad news, everybody: Angelos, and the aspects of the franchise he actually controls, continue to be the dark cloud hanging over baseball in Baltimore.
The most alarming takeaways: The Orioles “will not spend more without making more.” That loveable core of young players currently atop the uber-competitive AL East? Who knows what their future is, because if the fans want them to remain in Baltimore, “We’re going to have to raise the prices here — dramatically,” Angelos told the Times, reminding everyone with a parental sternness that a sports franchise “should live within your means and within your market.”
What a wonderful reminder that no player on this roster — with a payroll that ranks 28th out of 30 MLB teams — is secured beyond 2024 (though some of the youngest players remain under team control). What a hopeful message the 56-year-old steward of the franchise has for us about his hard choice: Either letting the harvest of the top farm system in baseball leave for better-paying markets, or simply pass the cost onto the rank-and-file fans.
Hear the buzz from a team coming off a 6-3 road trip, including a sweep in Oakland? Hear the joyful chatter about Gunnar Henderson, one of the brightest talents on the roster, nearly hitting for the cycle on Sunday?
Probably not. It’s being drowned out by Angelos’ commitment to being a buzzkill.
Enjoy this team while it lasts, because the owner is already crying poverty before it’s even time to pay the stars. Hopefully those players’ agents skipped reading Monday’s news over breakfast.
What might be the strangest part of a surprisingly credulous Times story is Angelos’ commitment to trodding over old ground. He talked about the possibilities of development around Camden Yards — property he doesn’t own — and how it could help increase revenue streams, even though he doesn’t have development rights in the parking lots where such things could be built. Furthermore, the state has signaled that he’s not going to receive those concessions in any long-term lease agreement.
He continues to talk about The Battery at Truist Park as a model, even though the Atlanta Braves’ home stadium is a 13-mile drive to downtown Atlanta — and the team poured hundreds of millions of dollars into building that facility. It’s as if Angelos thinks by continuing to articulate his message it will alter how people view it. But the bottom line, which has never changed, is that he wants public funds to help develop private revenue streams.
His vision is, unsurprisingly, scattershot: According to the Times, he pitched “an elementary school located in the warehouse, a health and wellness clinic, internship and mentorship programs for local youth.” Has Angelos considered the logistics of placing an actual school on Eutaw Street, or is this simply a list of community amenities he’s invented to get his pitch to stick?
It’s tiring trying to keep up with the ideas of a man who doesn’t have a clear vision and also doesn’t seem to read the room. It’s even more tiring to keep hearing the same things over and over: “Let’s say we sat down and showed you the financials for the Orioles,” he told the Times.
The rest of us are still waiting after you promised to open your books back in January. The Times can get in line.
No one is arguing that it’s not complicated or expensive to run a baseball team in a smaller market, especially in a league with no salary cap. But Angelos doesn’t seem to recognize that by continuing to turn his pockets inside out for all to see, that does harm to a brand that has been in decline for decades. A lot of losing over the last 30 years has made many fans cynical, and his latest messaging does little to melt hardened hearts or pry open cloistered wallets.
It’s hard to be sympathetic to a billionaire’s plight, especially one who can claim up to $600 million in public money simply by signing a lease agreement (“Angelos does not like the word lease” the Times notes helpfully). For context about how strong Maryland’s stadium package is, consider that the Milwaukee Brewers — another small market team — couldn’t get a $290 million package in place. While many of us may fret about the future of baseball here, MLB would be hard-pressed to pass on the money Baltimore has on the table.
Talking to the Times about an uncertain future — all while the team continues to hit it out of the park — seems like another in a growing list of missteps by Angelos in the last month : MASN bungled its handling of Kevin Brown (which even he admitted to The Times); a self-imposed stadium deal deadline came and went; and as more details have leaked about his ideas about a long-term lease, the wider the gap seems between the Orioles and state leaders to getting a deal done before the current lease expires at the end of the year.
There is one truly redeeming quality about the Orioles at the moment: They’re really, really good at baseball, and seriously fun to watch. A more savvy owner might sit back and let the play on the field do the talking. Fans haven’t filled the park the way the team might hope, but given the depths of the rebuilding seasons, it takes some time for faith to rebuild, too.
During the last competitive era, attendance didn’t suddenly leap up to a peak in the 2012 season when the Orioles got back to the playoffs: it was two seasons later, in 2014. What really gets buy-in is commitment, especially when it comes to contracts. There are a lot of reasons to believe the Orioles will be good for a long time — indeed, some of their best prospects aren’t even in the majors yet — but signing long-term deals is always a bit of a gamble that if you build a core and keep it together, people will come out in droves.
Maybe sit out a few innings, John. We’re trying to enjoy the game, but the owner keeps blocking our view.