Peter G. Angelos, the billionaire personal injury attorney credited with keeping the Baltimore Orioles here but who became despised by the fan base, died Saturday, the team announced. He was 94.

No cause of death was given. Mr. Angelos had been in poor health for years.

The son of Greek immigrants, Mr. Angelos entered public life as an ambitious local politician, winning elected office at age 29 but losing subsequent bids for City Council president and mayor. He then focused on law, racking up millions in judgments against the asbestos and tobacco industries.

In 1993, he swooped in and ensured the Orioles had local control and became a maverick owner who was willing to spend big to keep the team competitive. But he quickly earned a reputation as a meddler, forcing out popular team personalities and blocking player deals.

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After making two consecutive appearances in the American League Championship Series, the team endured 14 consecutive losing seasons from 1998 until 2011. Sports Illustrated once published a cartoon of Mr. Angelos gleefully choking an oriole bird in his fist, saying: “Birdbrained. Under the misguided stewardship of Peter Angelos, the once-proud Orioles have become the laughingstock of baseball.”

Sports Illustrated published a story about Peter Angelos with the headline "BIRDBRAINED" in the February 12, 2001 edition.
Sports Illustrated published a story about Peter Angelos with the headline "BIRDBRAINED" in the February 12, 2001 edition. (Sports Illustrated)

Angelos’ death comes less than a week before opening day at Camden Yards and right as the deal to sell the Orioles is being finalized.

An ownership group led by investor and Baltimore native David Rubenstein shocked Orioles fans in January when the Angelos family agreed to sell a controlling stake in the team in a deal that valued the franchise at $1.725 billion.

The MLB ownership committee approved the sale this month. On Wednesday, the Maryland Stadium Authority signed off on the sale. The next step is for a full vote on the sale by MLB owners.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred previously said he wanted the sale to close as quickly as possible.

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Born July 4, 1929, in Pittsburgh, the son of Greek immigrants John and Frances Angelos, Mr. Angelos moved with his family to East Baltimore’s Highlandtown when he was 11. He worked as a boy in his father’s tavern in Baltimore, where he came to admire the working men who came into the bar. Mr. Angelos would credit his father, a onetime steelworker, with teaching him to value work.

“He just taught me the usual immigrant credo,” Mr. Angelos told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “Work hard, don’t quit and be on the level. He never took a vacation, and I’ve taken only a few in my life. What do I do? I do what my old man did. I work.”

Mr. Angelos graduated from Patterson Park High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore. He put himself through law school, at night, and at age 29 won a seat on Baltimore City Council. He ran for council president in 1963 and lost, then for mayor in 1967 and lost. His ticket featured state Sen. Clarence Mitchell III, the first time there was a Black candidate on a major ticket in Baltimore. They lost handily to Thomas D’Alesandro III.

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Then Mr. Angelos built his fortune.

In 1961, he had passed the bar and opened a general practice law firm. In his first medical malpractice case, he won a $1.6 million judgment against Union Memorial Hospital.

He came to represent the United Steelworkers and the Baltimore Building Trades Council, unions with more than 30,000 workers at the old Bethlehem Steel mill at Sparrows Point. Union leaders asked Mr. Angelos to represent them in asbestos-related workers’ compensation claims.

“I really didn’t want to get involved in it,” Mr. Angelos told The Baltimore Sun in 1993. “I was spending all my time in the courtroom then. I had a small firm. I didn’t want to have to deal with all that administrative stuff, like you have with a big operation. But they insisted.”

Mr. Angelos’ firm famously never took on any partners. But it grew to 10 offices across Maryland and in three states, and the number of attorneys swelled from eight to more than 50. He took on thousands of clients — pipefitters, boilermakers, shipbuilders, steelworkers and other craftsmen.

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The lawsuits were consolidated in the 1990s, and Angelos won multimillion-dollar settlements for the workers. His take was estimated at $330 million.

“The manufacturers knew,” Angelos said in 1994. “For 40 years they knew this stuff was killing people, and they concealed it, and hundreds of thousands of people didn’t know the deadly hazard they were facing.”

His third act would be as Orioles owner.

Peter G. Angelos, center, sits in the owner's box with his son Louis and wife, Georgia, during a spring training game in 2007. (Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo)

Baltimore had lost the Colts and Bullets; Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams had threatened to move the team to Washington before it was acquired by Eli Jacobs, a New York investor who was a distant owner. When creditors forced Jacobs into bankruptcy in 1993, the team was up for grabs.

At first, Cincinnati financier William DeWitt, a minority owner of the Texas Rangers at the time, appeared poised to acquire the team. Mr. Angelos chafed at the idea. He had been approached months earlier by the spy novelist Tom Clancy about getting involved in the city’s bid for an NFL franchise, but with the prospect of the Orioles being sold to out-of-town ownership, they shifted their focus.

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Mr. Angelos and Clancy teamed with Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass, chairman and founder of the Merry-Go-Round clothing store chain based in Joppa. Others, including film director Barry Levinson, sportscaster Jim McKay and tennis star Pam Shriver, would later join the effort.

“It seems to me this is an irresistible group for owning a ballclub: local investors and a cross section of people and professions, self-made people, each a credit to the community,” Mr. Angelos said at the time.

Nonetheless, DeWitt continued to loom large, and it was reported that he had struck a deal to buy the club for $141 million.

Mr. Angelos’ group persisted and actually got DeWitt to join them. On Aug. 2, 1993, in a stifling Manhattan courtroom, they prevailed at auction, outbidding New York arts dealer Jeffrey Loria with a $173 million bid. The previous record for a Major League Baseball franchise was $125 million, when a group of Japanese investors purchased the Seattle Mariners a year earlier. Mr. Angelos put up $40 million of his own money.

“We have paid somewhat of a premium, but to bring ownership back to this state and city, it was well worth the expenditure,” Mr. Angelos said at a news conference. “I wasn’t going to come back to Maryland and say that a New Yorker got the best of me.”

During the sale process, Mr. Angelos had said that, if successful, he would retreat to the background and leave baseball decisions to baseball people; he said he was eyeing litigation on behalf of people hurt or killed by defective heart valves. Mr. Angelos was to be managing partner, with DeWitt in charge of baseball operations.

But Mr. Angelos instantly took charge of the organization. DeWitt never had a role and would go on to acquire the St. Louis Cardinals, whom he continues to own.

Mr. Angelos, meanwhile, within weeks was earning a reputation of a micro manager that would come to define his legacy with the team.

He immediately authorized a significant payroll increase; he also kept manager Johnny Oates and general manager Roland Hemond. The team was reported to be engaged in the pursuit of first basemen Will Clark, but negotiations stalled over Mr. Angelos’ demands that Clark undergo a full medical examination. The team also let closer Gregg Olson walk over medical concerns.

It was later reported that, within weeks, Hemond was so frustrated that he offered to resign. The Sun’s Mark Hyman wrote a prophetic feature story on Mr. Angelos’ first months at the helm.

“At times, Mr. Angelos has looked a lot like a whirling, one-man show. For an owner on the job only four months, he has shown absolute confidence in his judgment, particularly in choosing next season’s Orioles roster. He forms strong opinions about players, and has played a lead role in deciding which free agents the Orioles should pursue. He rejects any thought that those decisions should be solely in the hands of baseball experts. At times, this heavy input has created tension between Mr. Angelos and front office officials, who worry that he acts impulsively and that his appetite even for baseball details is whittling away their influence.”

Front office officials wondered how Mr. Angelos seemed to have strong opinions about obscure players. He told The Sun that they came via his son, John, then a law school student whom he made a special assistant to the chairman. “He knows more about baseball players than anybody I ever talked to,” Peter Angelos said at the time.

But the team made a splash that offseason by signing slugger Rafael Palmeiro to a five-year, $30 million deal, along with starting pitcher Sid Fernandez, closer Lee Smith and third baseman Chris Sabo. “New Owner, New Players, New Swagger,” read a Washington Post headline that spring. The team finished 63-49 the next, strike-shortened season, second in the AL East.

Among the fraternity of Major League Baseball owners, Mr. Angelos developed a reputation as a maverick who voted against the majority on almost every significant proposal — he was the only owner who didn’t sign replacement players during the strike, voted against a salary cap and slammed acting Commissioner Bud Selig.

Mr. Angelos fired Oates after the 1994 season, and when then-Baltimore Sun reporter Ken Rosenthal questioned Mr. Angelos’ decision-making, he fired off a two-page press release blasting Rosenthal as “an insolent caterwauling twit” whose “journalistic fulminations vilify and randomly splatter written bile upon those with whom, in his distorted state of mind, he disagrees.”

The team sputtered to a 71-73 record in 1995. The next year, Angelos hired general manager Pat Gillick, the architect of the Toronto Blue Jays’ success, along with former Orioles player Davey Johnson to be manager, and signed All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, who is now in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“We owe it to our fans to field the best possible team,” he said.

Observers would later say that Mr. Angelos was emboldened in his roster decision-making when, after a lackluster start to the season, he blocked Gillick from trading veterans Bobby Bonilla and David Wells for younger players. The team rallied to an 88-74 finish and won the wild card, the club’s first trip to the playoffs since 1983, then climbed to 98 wins the following year.

Johnson and Mr. Angelos did not get along, and Johnson resigned via fax on the same day he was named American League Manager of the Year.

The team embarked on 14 consecutive losing seasons, losing 90 or more games nine times.

Angelos continued a willingness to spend, signing mercurial slugger Albert Belle to a five-year, $65 million deal, which would be cut short by a degenerative hip condition.

But fans were outraged when homegrown ace starting pitcher Mike Mussina left for the hated New York Yankees after the 2000 season. The team found itself unable to court other free agents. “It’s like we have Confederate money; it’s no good,” general manager Syd Thrift said.

In Mr. Angelos’ first seven seasons, the team ran through four general managers, five managers and six pitching coaches. During a three-year losing skid, the team ranked first, third and third in spending. The team “spent lavishly and imprudently in his twin desires to reward the fanatical support of Baltimore fans and to keep up with the Yankees, his American League East archrivals. No man ever spent so much money to lose so many games,” the Sports Illustrated article said.

The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell wrote: “The only person in baseball who does not realize now that Angelos has decimated the Orioles franchise is Angelos himself.”

Peter Angelos testifies before the House Government Reform Committee about the dispute involving the Nationals’ and Orioles’ TV right in 2006. (UPI / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo)

During that time, Angelos attempted to block efforts for a team in Washington. He cast the lone dissenting vote among owners over the move of the Montreal Expos to D.C., saying it would hurt the team’s cable viewership in a region that had been Baltimore’s exclusive broadcast territory since 1972, and negotiated controlling ownership of a regional network — called the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. The Nationals have said they are owed hundreds of millions more, and a legal battle continues to this day.

The Orioles’ payroll, meanwhile, fell from the top of the league to the middle of the pack while the highest payrolls surged. The Yankees’ payroll topped $200 million in 2005, followed by another AL East rival, the Red Sox, at $120 million, while the Orioles were spending $75 million.

Mr. Angelos became less visible and less accessible. Attendance plummeted. In 2006, nearly 1,000 fans walked out of Camden Yards in protest. Many wore black T-shirts that read ”FREE THE BIRDS.” Others had signs that had “For Pete’s Sake.” Mr. Angelos said those upset had “no comprehension of what it costs to run a baseball team.”

In 2007, he told reporters: “Of course it bothers you. No one likes to be criticized, but you have to deal with it. I am the managing partner, so I have to take the heat. And I make the decisions, so I should take the heat.”

The franchise reversed its fortunes in 2012. Led by Buck Showalter and a core group of young players, the team flipped its win-loss record — from 69-93 to 93-69 — and reeled off five consecutive winning seasons, reaching the American League Championship Series in 2014, when they were swept by the Kansas City Royals.

Mr. Angelos continued to resist the spotlight during the team’s resurgence, but it was clear he was still in control, such as when he blocked the Blue Jays from trying to hire away Executive Vice President Dan Duquette following the 2014 season, issuing a statement that said: “We’re not relinquishing him, period.”

One of Angelos’ last big moves was to intervene in the re-signing of slugging first baseman Chris Davis to a seven-year, $161 million contract, perhaps the worst deal in franchise history. The deal was made over the objections of the front office, and an economic adviser of the team later said Angelos “wanted to please those entreating him to keep the band together, even if it might make little economic sense.”

Davis became lost at the plate, at one point setting the MLB record for the most consecutive at-bats by a position player without a hit when he went 0-for-54.

Other notable moments of his ownership included negotiating a historic exhibition series in 1999 against the Cuban national team, over objections of the State Department. He gave one of his last interviews to the New York Times, recalling the series.

“I always felt the embargo was a mistake and it did not work. In my mind, it was unfortunate and never should have happened,” he said. “So I felt we had to put all that aside and reestablish the dialogue. I felt the two countries could get together and put behind their differences, and what better way to start than through baseball, the national sport of both countries?”

Mr. Angelos was also involved in early efforts to get an NFL team in Baltimore.

He purchased Shane’s Restaurant in Lutherville and a majority share of the Perring Place restaurant in Perring Plaza. He got involved in thoroughbred racing and bought up real estate, including One Charles Center where his law firm was located.

Mr. Angelos represented the state and negotiated a $4 billion settlement with tobacco companies. Under his agreement with state officials, he was to receive $150 million over five years.

In 2010, 15 business owners backed by Mr. Angelos sued the state over a planned redevelopment of the State Center complex on the west side of downtown, contending that the deal was unlawful and did not follow competitive bidding requirements. The challenge was thrown out by the state’s highest court in 2014.

Peter Angelos married Georgia Kousouris in 1966, and they had two sons, Louis and John.

As a philanthropist, he’s donated millions to the University of Baltimore, including $15 million of the $22 million in private funding that went into the contemporary John and Frances Angelos Law Center that opened in 2013, according to The Baltimore Sun.

He also gave $2.5 million for a new lung center at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and was a prolific political donor, including $270,000 to a SuperPAC formed to convince Joe Biden to run for president in 2016.

Mr. Angelos collapsed on Oct. 13, 2017, due to the failure of his aortic valve. He established a trust, with his wife and two sons appointed as co-trustees. His health continued to decline and, by early 2019, Major League Baseball was asking the Orioles to designate a new control person.

John Angelos steered the franchise to its current success, hiring general manager Mike Elias and by all accounts ceding baseball decisions. After a rocky rebuild, the team won 101 games in 2023, finishing first in the American League East.

But family drama spilled into public view in 2022, when son Louis Angelos filed a lawsuit against John Angelos and mother Georgia, alleging they had cut him out of a role with the team and “plundered” a bank account belonging to Peter Angelos that initially contained more than $65 million. Two months later, Georgia Angelos sued Louis Angelos, claiming he had sold his father’s law firm to himself in a move that amounted to elder abuse.

The brothers settled their dispute in February of last year. The terms of their settlement were confidential.

Early in 2024, following protracted negotiations over a new lease with the state to keep the team at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, John Angelos agreed to turn over control of the ballclub to the group led by Rubenstein. The deal still needs the approval of MLB owners.

In February, a Baltimore County judge approved the sale of the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos to three of the firm’s attorneys.