The Early Years

Peter Angelos is synonymous with Baltimore, yet he was born in rival sports town Pittsburgh, on July 4, 1929, with a different first name, George, to his parents, John and Frances Angelos, who were first-generation immigrants from Greece. When Angelos was 10, his mother — a Greek Orthodox believer — changed his first name in dedication to St. Peter after her son survived a potentially deadly bout of appendicitis.

Before that, Angelos attended five schools in five years as his father moved from job to job around mill towns during the Great Depression, before ultimately bringing the family to Baltimore’s Greek enclave in Highlandtown. As a teenager, Peter Angelos, who as an adult wouldn’t be taller than 5-foot-6, scrapped with bullies and learned to box. “Take a look at this nose,” he said in a 1967 Baltimore Evening Sun story, pushing it in different directions, according to the reporter.

In Angelos’ formative years, he admired the blue-collar workers from the nearby Bethlehem Steel mill and the docks at the Port of Baltimore who frequented the corner bar his father ran in the heart of Greektown. Angelos worked there, admittedly learned to drink, and further developed his ethos by watching his father.

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Angelos talks with Cal Ripken Jr. before the last game of Ripken’s Hall of Fame career. (Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

Peter G. Angelos, who died Saturday at age 94 after a yearslong battle with dementia, perhaps most famous to many Baltimoreans who heard his law firm’s commercials over the years, made billions of dollars for clients and hundreds of millions for himself as a lawyer representing thousands of sickened or deceased blue-collar workers during asbestos litigation in the 1980s and ’90s. The pursuit of those cases, and the enormous wealth it brought him — enough to buy the Orioles for a record price 31 years ago — was born out of his teenage and young adult years living and working in Greektown. “That neighborhood and job gave him ties to workers at all sorts of nearby factories,” wrote Dave McKenna of the sports website Defector in 2021. “He saw that those workplaces were superspreaders for asbestos-related respiratory diseases just by watching longtime customers and neighbors get sick.”

Angelos, an undersize son of immigrants-turned-lawyer-champion for the everyday worker, was as Baltimore as a person could be for being born out of town, something he would decry years later when buying the Orioles. While in law school in his late 20s, the brash young Angelos pursued city politics, wore slicked-back black hair and spoke his mind. Into adulthood, he fought for workers’ rights and, because of it, eventually owned a baseball team, built a real estate empire and wielded political influence for years in Maryland as a major financial donor to the Democratic party. “We’re so proud of Peter,” his friend Michael Stefanaras, an accountant from Greektown, was quoted as saying in a late-night bar scene at Jimmy’s described in the Times Magazine profile in the ’90s. “He’s made it, and he’s one of us.”

Angelos joined the Army when he was 17. After a two-year hitch, he returned home to work for his father in the restaurant business in Greektown, and paid his way through Mount Vernon Law School (which has since become part of the University of Baltimore), attending classes at night. Law ran in the family. His grandfather and great-grandfather were lawyers in Greece.

As a 28-year-old with two years left in law school, Angelos unsuccessfully ran for Maryland State Senate. The next year, in 1959, Angelos won a City Council seat on a Democratic ticket that opposed incumbent Mayor Tom D’Alesandro III.

Angelos served a brief term on Baltimore City Council, but it was notable. He sponsored a civil rights bill that banned segregation in city facilities. It won by a close vote after failing to pass statewide. He also became known as “always brash and sometimes almost ruthless,” as the Evening Sun described. Angelos often assailed other public officials, calling the then-mayor guilty of “negligence and incompetency,” as just one example, and periodically called for investigations into city-run programs.

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In 1960 Angelos graduated law school as class valedictorian, and in 1961 he passed the bar and opened his own practice — the Law Offices of Peter Angelos — specializing in liability cases. He at first took on workers’ compensation cases and got work representing local labor unions, including friends in the United Steelworkers. His payouts were almost always on a contingency basis. If he won a case, he would get a large chunk of the settlement. If he lost, he’d typically get nothing.

The Lawyer Years

Angelos and his wife, Georgia Angelos, attend a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra party in 1996. (Tribune Content Agency LLC / Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo)

In 1966, Angelos married Georgia Kousouris. A year later, Angelos unsuccessfully ran for mayor (on the city’s first integrated ticket), and the couple had their first child, John. They added a second son, Louis, a few years later. Angelos considered entering several state and congressional races in the ensuing years but decided to focus on his law practice.

As a tenacious litigator with a workaholic’s schedule, Angelos took on medical malpractice and police firing cases, but the biggest trial he handled early in his career was the so-called St. Valentine’s Day Massacre case. Six jockeys at Bowie Race Course were alleged to have fixed a nine-horse race on Feb. 14, 1975. Several riders were indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges. Angelos represented the jockeys, who were all convicted and sentenced to jail time. The alleged leader maintained his innocence and died by suicide rather than going to jail, something Angelos never got over, along with the verdict. Years later, Angelos would own his own stable of racehorses and farms in Baltimore County and Florida.

In the 1970s, Angelos also started working on a growing number of asbestos litigation cases, because many of the people he had grown up around in Greektown and served drinks to had started getting sick, following years of breathing in particles from insulation and other materials in factories and mills.

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By the 1980s, he was earning more than $1 million per year, the Washington Post reported, and his relationship with the unions led him to have thousands of clients, nearly 9,000, whose claims were ultimately combined in a class-action lawsuit.

By the early 1990s, Angelos had reportedly collected more than $1 billion for his clients and several hundred million for himself on asbestos-related cases. He became known as a liability litigation pioneer.

Angelos was also part of litigation against Big Tobacco. He got $150 million from the state of Maryland in connection with health-related lawsuits after the state joined a more than $200 billion national tobacco settlement in 1998. It was substantially less than Angelos believed he was owed based on a contract he had signed two years earlier, to get 25% of any proceeds Maryland made from tobacco cases, but it still amounted to $5,000 per hour for his work.

“If I was taking on an asbestos or a tobacco company, I’ll say it publicly, I’m the little guy taking on the big guy,” Angelos said in an Associated Press story in 1993. “You give me a big gorilla to go after, and you’ll see 5-foot-6, 170-pound Peter Angelos chasing after him.”

That was him. A feisty, prodigious lawyer whose fees allowed him to buy the 22-story downtown Baltimore tower that would house his law firm and many other properties around town that remain under his family’s ownership. He also became a prominent lobbyist in state politics, at times donating in excess of $1 million in some election cycles, and he had enough influence in Annapolis that certain proposed legislation became known by critics as “Angelos bills.”

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Eventually, Angelos had enough political clout to arrange a diplomatic trip to Cuba in 1999, when the Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to play a game in the country in 40 years.

The Orioles Years

Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles (Jerry Wachter)

On Feb. 26, 1993, the Baltimore Sun reported that Cincinnati-based oilman Bill DeWitt Jr. had agreed to buy the Orioles for $141.3 million from Eli Jacobs, a New York-based venture capitalist who was struggling financially. The idea set in motion Angelos’ plan to purchase the team instead. He was perturbed by the concept of Jacobs, a Boston native-turned-New Yorker, selling one of Baltimore’s treasures to yet another out-of-towner. “If you allow your major league club to be owned by out-of-towners, you’re not really a major league city,” Angelos would later tell the Sun. “You’re a branch-office city.”

And, with more and more money coming in from asbestos case settlements, Angelos, a fan of the Orioles for years, had the means to change the course of the team’s history, or so he thought. He put together a group of local investors, which included novelist Tom Clancy, Baltimore native filmmaker Barry Levinson and tennis player Pam Shriver, and approached Jacobs about a potential purchase after reading about the reported agreement to sell the team to DeWitt. But Angelos was told the sale was nearly final.

“The attitude was that local people need not apply; this is a done deal,” Angelos told author John Helyar in the 1994 book, “Lords of the Realm.” “That didn’t sit well with me.”

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A few weeks later, during spring training of 1993, the story changed. Jacobs defaulted on loans to seven banks, who forced him into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings to maximize the sale price of the Orioles on the open market. Angelos would have an opportunity to buy the team at auction, something Angelos played a role in arranging. He later told Sports Illustrated he had cold called the banks to which Jacobs owed money and told the creditors he would pay more than DeWitt had offered for the Orioles.

The Orioles went up for auction on Aug. 2, 1993, in a packed New York City courtroom. By then, Angelos had persuaded DeWitt into joining his bid for the team, by suggesting that he and then-Orioles President and CEO Larry Lucchino could be part of the club’s management should Angelos become owner. At the same time, Angelos had agreed with his partners that he would put up $40 million in cash for the potential purchase.

In the electric lower Manhattan courtroom, Angelos and New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria got into a bidding war, and Angelos prevailed with a $173 million bid — at the time the largest price paid for a professional American sports franchise — despite members of Angelos’ finance team telling him he was beyond “his number.” “Pretty much all the baseball bigwigs were there, and of course they liked the size of the price,” Angelos told Sports Illustrated. “They also thought they were watching a bunch of lunatics.” The price was more than $10 million above what Angelos’ creditors had gone into the auction agreeing to help finance. Angelos told them they’d figure it out.

“Here’s someone who comes out of a blue-collar neighborhood whose father is a small-businessman. The kid grows up and goes to night school to become a lawyer, then he buys the hometown baseball team,” Angelos said during his first season as owner. “It’s a perpetuation of the American dream, a rags-to-riches phenomenon.”

As an owner, Angelos became more widely known as a maverick — and hands-on, for better or worse. He was willing to spend money on free agents and, in line with his career as a liability lawyer sympathetic to workers, he was an outspoken supporter of the player’s union during the 1994-95 baseball players’ strike. Angelos — who once said the labor movement was “responsible for everything good in America” — refused to consider the Orioles using replacement players because it would make for a watered-down version of pro baseball.

He had other motivations, too. Cal Ripken Jr. had played in 2,009 consecutive games when the strike began. Had MLB resumed play with replacements, Ripken’s ironman streak would have ended short of Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 games.

Angelos’ pro-worker stance won him support among players and fans but not other owners. Despite his experience as a labor negotiator, other owners didn’t include Angelos in talks with players. At the time, former Los Angeles Times baseball reporter Bob Nightengale called Angelos “perhaps the most popular man in Maryland … a feisty reformer who rebels against authority, alienates his peers and caters to the working class.”

But, as Angelos’ ownership tenure continued, his reputation and legacy grew more complicated, even among those who had previously lionized him. While some owners take a hands-off approach, Angelos had the final say on all transactions and his behavior prompted comparisons with overbearing New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner (but without New York’s World Series championships of the late 1990s).

Angelos became known for alienating fans and staff, by meddling in roster composition and day-to-day operations that many viewed as outside his expertise. Some decisions worked for a time, such as signing Rafael Palmeiro as a free agent. In 1996, when the O’s had the second-highest payroll in baseball, Angelos vetoed trades that GM Pat Gillick had arranged and the team grabbed the American League wild card, a result that may have emboldened him to make more baseball decisions. But enough of those that came next didn’t work.

Most notably, Angelos insisted on signing free agent Albert Belle in 1999 to the largest contract in MLB history, in what became an albatross of a deal when Belle retired two years later because of a degenerative hip condition. The Belle signing set the tone for a decade of below-.500 seasons that included four managers in 10 years and a front office that often seemed to lack chain of command, a losing run that lingers among the fan base today, even amid the team’s resurgence.

Over the years, though, Angelos consistently defended Baltimore’s place in the pro sports landscape, tried to bring a football team here before the Ravens, and opposed a baseball team being placed in Northern Virginia or Washington, D.C., which ultimately happened and led to a still ongoing television rights fees dispute with the Washington Nationals.

A 1997 Sun editorial noted the powerful paradox that Angelos was, positioning unpopular staff departures against his visibly impulsive nature against the good he had seemingly done for Baltimore:

PETER G. ANGELOS is a walking, talking, flesh-and-blood contradiction. He bought and saved the Orioles for Baltimore four years ago, but is held in contempt now by many of the same fans who revered him then. They rightfully blame him for the premature departures of team manager Davey Johnson this week and popular radio broadcaster Jon Miller a year ago.

He reacts as a fan, pounding his fist in his sumptuous skybox after a relief pitcher serves up a homer. Yet he’s oblivious to the negative fan reaction his micro-meddling engenders. ...

He can come off so gallantly – trying to save shipyard jobs, a downtown office or a historic church. Or he can come off mean: He ignored Mr. Johnson’s outstanding record – two straight post-season teams – because he was offended by a single remark the manager made among thousands of media questions during the season.

By 2007, 91% of respondents to a Sun poll that asked to describe the job Angelos had done as owner chose “bad.” Angelos seemed to acknowledge the complexities of his life in later years. “You just hope that, overall, people think of you in the positive as opposed to those areas where you didn’t quite meet the test,” Angelos told The Daily Record in 2009.

For example, he once gave $1.5 million in seed money for a new African American museum downtown when a friend came to him looking for suggestions on how to raise the money. And sometimes his other philanthropic endeavors were public, yet others private. In 2010, Angelos anonymously donated $300,000 to help keep city pools open during a hot summer, and a new Angelos Law School building at the University of Baltimore opened in 2013. It bears his parents’ first names on the façade on the corner of North Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue.

The Recent Past

Angelos (left) attends a reception before former Orioles manager Buck Showalter (center) receives the Marylander of the Year award from the Baltimore Sun. At right is Angela Showalter. (Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty I)

A year after the Orioles’ playoff appearance in 2016 and three seasons after the club’s deepest postseason run to the American League Championship Series in 2014 under the leadership of manager Buck Showalter — Angelos suffered a collapse. He was incapacitated after that, according to since-reported court documents.

According to a document signed Oct. 31, 2017, he granted power of attorney to his wife “to act in my place in all matters.” Should she not be able to, he designated his sons “acting jointly or separately” to replace her as his “attorney-in-fact.”

At the time, those outside his family or with intimate knowledge were unaware of Angelos’ worsening health. That changed over the next two years, as his sons, Peter and John, appeared to take over control of the club. The brothers were onstage together in November 2018 when the Orioles hired general manager Mike Elias to lead an organizational rebuild — and do it his way — though a formal succession plan to replace their father as principal owner hadn’t been announced.

In February 2019, Major League Baseball asked O’s ownership for formal clarification about who was making decisions. More than a year later, in November 2020, John Angelos was approved by fellow MLB owners as the Orioles’ control person.

In June 2022, John’s younger brother, Louis — who had been running the family’s law firm — filed a salacious lawsuit against John and their mother, Georgia, contending that John had seized power over the team and the family’s real estate empire despite their father’s intention for the two of them to control them equally. In rounds of court filings, among other personal swipes and the characterization that their father was “now disabled,” Louis accused John of looking to sell the Orioles or move the club to Nashville, Tennessee, where John has a home.

Georgia Angelos then sued Louis, accusing her younger son of stealing the law firm and masquerading as an agent of his father to sell it for his own gain. In the suit, she said her husband suffered from advanced dementia and revealed that she went as far as hiring the attorney who brokered peace for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family to heal the rift between her children. The family agreed to settle the legal disputes in February 2023, with Louis Angelos agreeing to give up the management of the firm in favor of a conservator to handle its business.

Later in the month, John Angelos appeared at the Orioles’ spring training complex in Sarasota, Florida, where he said he hoped to have a new lease in place by the All-Star break. The existing agreement was set to expire at the end of 2023. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore and state officials traveled to Florida in March 2023 for negotiations. During that time, Angelos and Moore toured Atlanta’s Truist Park and the development outside the stadium known as The Battery.

The All-Star Game came and went without a resolution. In August 2023, after a poll circulated on a development called “Camden Crossing,” it was revealed John sought an additional $300 million from the state on top of the $600 million already allotted for stadium improvements.

During a beer-soaked celebration in September 2023, after the Orioles clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2016, John pledged a new lease would get done. An announcement came on Sept. 28, 2023, the night the Orioles claimed the AL East, that the Orioles would stay at Camden Yards for the next 30 years. But it proved to be a nonbinding memorandum of understanding.

A deal appeared close in December 2023, but Senate President Bill Ferguson balked, citing a process to allow the team to negotiate a 99-year ground lease. He also pointed to a report that billionaire David Rubenstein was pursuing the team. John Angelos called Moore to say his family wasn’t selling. A lease was finalized a little over a week later to guarantee the team will remain in Baltimore for at least another 15 years, but the development plans were pushed back.

At the end of January 2024, John Angelos reached an agreement to sell a controlling stake in the franchise to a group led by Rubenstein. Other members include Ripken, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, billionaire Michael Arougheti, former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, NBA Hall of Famer Grant Hill, and Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang.

Days before the start of the 2024 season, Peter Angelos died at age 94. A mere four days later, Major League Baseball owners approved the sale, giving Rubenstein control of the franchise.

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