- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos must be running scared. He is feeling the presence of a baseball team getting closer and closer to the Washington-Northern Virginia region, and he may be getting desperate.

How desperate? Enough perhaps to use strong-arm tactics on one of the biggest accounting firms in the country to keep it from doing work for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority.

According to Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the stadium authority, Angelos pressured PricewaterhouseCoopers to pull out of contract negotiations to do work for the authority.

What work was the firm going to be hired to do? Be part of the stadium authority's study to determine the impact that a baseball team in Northern Virginia would have on the Orioles.

It turns out that PricewaterhouseCoopers is working for Angelos in his legal battle against the Maryland Stadium Authority to change the Orioles' lease. The Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority had no problem with PricewaterhouseCoopers doing work for Angelos while it was working for the Virginia authority, Paul said, adding, "That was fine with us."

Apparently, the Orioles' owner was not as open-minded.

When Angelos found out that PricewaterhouseCoopers was negotiating to do the Virginia baseball study, he told the firm to back out or risk losing his business, Paul said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers backed out of talks for the Northern Virginia study, Paul said.

Angelos did not return phone calls, but club officials maintained privately that there was no pressure exerted on the accounting firm, and PricewaterhouseCoopers denies it responded to pressure from Angelos.

"We did respond to a proposal [from the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority], but it was never acted upon," said Stephen Silber, spokesman for PricewaterhouseCoopers. "We were never given the go-ahead to proceed to the next step. We make business decisions for our own business considerations, not because of any pressure from other clients. But in this case we were never contracted for the project."

But according to Paul, the Gold Group, the agency the stadium authority had worked with to put together the three-firm group to conduct the study, was well along in negotiations with PricewaterhouseCoopers to sign a contract.

"We were in the process of negotiating the contract," he said. Then they learned that PricewaterhouseCoopers would not be signing a contract to do work for the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority because of the pressure from Angelos, Paul said.

"It was very small of Peter Angelos, and Pricewaterhouse's ethics leave something to be desired," Paul said. "Peter Angelos stuck his nose into this, and it is very petty what he is trying to do."

What could Angelos be afraid of? Perhaps it is that such a study, this time not paid for by the Orioles, will reveal that the fan base his franchise claims to have in Washington and Northern Virginia is not as great as they say. Or maybe that the results will show that a franchise here won't have as great an impact on his "monopoly" as he claims.

Will Angelos do anything he can to sabotage any chance for major league baseball in the Washington/Northern Virginia area?

If so, that should anger baseball fans here, whether they go to Camden Yards or not.

Paul said the Virginia Stadium Authority's study is continuing, with a new firm, as part of the mounting evidence in favor of relocating a team in the Washington/ Northern Virginia area.

"We're trying to get an honest appraisal of what the impact, if any, would be [on the Orioles if a team were placed in the Washington/Northern Virginia area]," Paul said.

An honest appraisal must frighten Angelos.

Major League Baseball is conducting its own private study of the matter.

That must frighten Angelos.

No franchise has moved since the Washington Senators left after the 1971 season for Arlington, Texas. But the economics study panel appointed by commissioner Bud Selig recently concluded that if teams are in financial trouble, they should be allowed to move.

That must frighten Angelos.

The Montreal Expos finally appear to be well-positioned to move. The Expos' Quebec-based limited partners are set to sell their shares to New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria. That would mean the only thing standing in the way of Loria relocating the team and finding new partners here would be approval to move by MLB, and baseball's patience in Montreal has to be close to the end.

That must frighten Angelos.

The Minnesota Twins and the Florida Marlins also are prime candidates for relocation, with little or no support from government officials to get new ballparks where they are now. Yet Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III told Selig in a letter last month that "if any team concludes it must relocate, Virginia is ready to work with you and team owners to form a responsible public-private partnership."

That must really frighten Angelos.

It is a game of hardball now, and Peter Angelos appears to be trying to move the effort to bring baseball back to the Washington/ Northern Virginia area off the plate. Now is the time to dig in and stay in the box.

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