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Here's an Owner Who's for the Birds

November 06, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

For all the attention we pay Marge Schott, for her dimwitted ways, or George Steinbrenner, for his megalomania, or Bud Selig, for his inefficiency, perhaps we neglect an owner who is fast becoming one of the most outrageous in baseball, or closing ground to run a close fourth.

His name is Peter Angelos, and he is the capricious chairman of the board of the Baltimore Orioles, a popular and traditionally well-run organization that packs its picturesque ballpark and typically contends for the division title.

It was Angelos, remember, who refused to field a team during the baseball players' strike, meaning that no matter how Baltimore's fans felt about the players' actions, the owner was prepared to deprive them of any kind of baseball, go 0-162 for the season with daily forfeitures, and have this record permanently stain the Orioles' statistics for the entire century.

It was Angelos, also, who recently proposed that Bobby Bonilla, an overpaid prima donna, be given a contract for next season assuring him that the Oriole manager will not use him as a designated hitter, or else the contract is void and Bonilla free to seek employment elsewhere. Had such a thing ever been suggested by Schott, she would have been lambasted, coast to coast.

And now comes the latest quirk from the ornery Oriole owner, the ushering out the Camden Yards broadcast booth of Jon Miller, one of the most astute and engaging play-by-play men in the business today.

For 14 years, Miller was the voice of the Orioles, known for his Nicole Miller neckties, his uncanny impersonations of Vin Scully and others, and first and foremost, his splendid description of each game. Small wonder the San Francisco Giants have already snapped him up, with a five-year contract. The Dodgers and Giants now have not only a great rivalry, but great play-by-play guys to match.

Miller has little of the affectation one finds in broadcasters these days, and, when paired with Joe Morgan on ESPN in particular, provides the audience with a telecast spiked with intelligence and humor, with a minimum of clowning. Chris Berman's success notwithstanding, players and viewers alike must endure endless references to obscure pop songs and humiliating nicknames. (How would you like your family to hear you referred to as Greg "Gagne With a Spoon" or as Willie "Me and Bobby" McGee, not once or twice, but night after night?)

Taking it upon himself again to decide what the Baltimore public deserves, Angelos has forced out Miller, saying he preferred someone who would be more of an advocate of the team. That guy who spelled out O-R-I-O-L-E-S with his arms and legs atop the Baltimore dugout might be available, if Angelos checks.

Today's broadcaster, we all know, is handpicked by the team, not by the executive who runs the station. This kind of obsequious pandering is the way business is done now in baseball, which has image problems and wouldn't want an announcer to dwell on the fact that the second baseman is in the middle of a monthlong slump, or the shortstop is in the middle of a monthlong sulk.

There are people with cable television who mistakenly take the great Harry Caray for a "homer" for the Cubs, when, in fact, Harry was telling it like it was long before Howard Cosell ever held a mike. Nowadays, though, we dread broadcasts such as the Arizona Diamondbacks' will be, come 1998, when the play-by-play man will be contractually obliged to declare, every time a Diamondback hits a home run, "There goes a Bank One Boomer!" in compliance with a local bank.

Behind the scenes in Baltimore, people are saying Angelos is so pro-player, he sides with a Cal Ripken or a Bonilla on practically everything, thereby interfering with the way the manager and general manager run the club.

We chastised Steinbrenner for such behavior, ridiculed Schott. Perhaps Vice Chairman Tom Clancy of the Orioles can title his next novel, "Another Clear and Present Danger," about an owner who gives executive orders.

An owner buys the team, can do what he or she wants with it. Tom Werner bought the San Diego Padres once, and turned it into a garage sale. Peter Angelos has the Orioles now. That bird on the caps could be a cuckoo.

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