Baltimore Orioles fans called to arms

Baltimore Orioles’ majority owner Peter Angelos took the nearly unprecedented step in standing with the players during the 1994 Major League Baseball strike. That ruffled a lot of feathers in the league office, starting with commissioner Bud Selig. And the reverberations of that are still being felt today.

For the record, my personal opinion is that Angelos was right to stand with the players. Either way, you have to admire bucking the hand that feeds him to stand up for what he believed. That aside, he’s been unpopular in the league offices since then. The fact that he was able to in essence hoodwink the league into owning the television rights to the Washington Nationals didn’t help.

Last week the Nationals were allegedly awarded in excess of $100 million in back pay for the rights to their games on MASN from 2012-2016. While that’s more than MASN and the Orioles wanted to pay, it’s also significantly less than the $288 million that the Nationals initially wanted. MASN of course may or may not appeal the decision.

Peter Angelos of course is in ailing health, and his sons John and Lou have been running the team for well over a year. MLB has asked the Orioles to clarify who’s in charge of the team. In essence however, if John and Lou are being gifted the team or if they inherit it when their father dies, 2/3rds of the owners still have to approve them as the new owners. (As an example, Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner in essence gifted the team to his son Mark last year. The other owners approved it, and on they went.) Votes like that are normally formalities, because no owner wants to set a precedent that his family could be voted out of owning his team/company. However the potential is there for the league to not approve the Angelos sons, at which point the team would have to be sold.

Why is this all important now? Over the weekend, Attorney Ben Neil was a guest on Bruce Cunningham’s show on the Orioles’ flagship radio station, 105.7 “the fan” WJZ-FM. He mentioned that he’s heard on good authority that the league wants the Orioles to move, preferably to Las Vegas. Neil didn’t say how he had heard this information, or who his source was. He simply said that these were MLB’s wishes. He also said that a $3 million dollar offer either was or had been on the table to move the team to Vegas when the current lease at Camden Yards expires after 2021.

To be frank, this is heresy at this point. The Program Director of WJZ, Chuck Sapienza, tweeted a disclaimer of sorts yesterday in that these were unsubstantiated rumors and should be taken as such. But…should Orioles fans take this with a grain of salt?

Baltimore fans remember all too well that teams can move – often in the dead of the night. It’s easy to say the team will never move, or that MLB would never want to leave Camden Yards vacant. But certainly after the Colts left, you can forgive people for being skeptical.

Furthermore connect the dots of what I said above. The league office has multiple axes to grind with Peter Angelos and thus by extension the Angelos family – justified or not. Would taking the team away from him or his family and then moving them out of the city that they all love not grind that ax?

The league itself can’t just up and move a team. However if Mr. Neil’s comments are in fact true, it sounds like they’re trying to make that happen – again, IF Mr. Neil’s comments are true. The league could either be trying to pay their way out of Baltimore, or force a sale. And the league could then very easily make a condition of the sale being that the team has to move to Vegas.

How likely is any of this to happen? Probably not very likely, even given the political stuff I mentioned above. However Orioles fans should know that regardless of what they think of the current ownership, the Angelos family is the biggest proponent that they have in terms of the team staying in Baltimore long term.

My personal opinion is that while relocation is probably unlikely, I doubt Mr. Neil made up that story. It was intended as a call to arms to Orioles fans. On a civic level, it’s up to you to do your part to ensure that the team stays here. I can’t tell you what “doing your part” means, because I’m trying to figure that out myself. But ultimately fan empathy, or simply dismissing the idea as ridiculous plays right into the hands of forces who might seek to move the team.

What I can tell you is that while I have a small voice in the grand scheme of people who cover the Orioles, I do have a voice with this column. And I’m going to put the full force of that voice behind keeping the Orioles in Baltimore forevermore.

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