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Fans want Angelos out

- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

BALTIMORE -- Peter Angelos was the toast of the town 10 years ago, the owner of a Baltimore Orioles franchise battling back to respectability and the team's first playoff appearance in 13 seasons.

Yesterday, Mr. Angelos was the villain at the team's ballpark. About 1,000 fans rose en masse and exited Camden Yards during a game against the Detroit Tigers in protest of the ninth consecutive losing season by the Orioles.

"We've been losing for 10 years, and nothing looks like it is getting any better," said John Logue, a fan from Essex, Md. "I want to see Camden Yards filled again -- and not with Red Sox and Yankee fans."

In an embarrassing display for Mr. Angelos, the fans -- many wearing black T-shirts that read, "Free the Birds" -- rose from their seats in the upper deck above left field at 5:08 p.m. The time was a reference to the jersey numbers of past Orioles icons Brooks Robinson (5) and Cal Ripken (8).

The fans filed out of the exits in the middle of a two-run rally in the fourth inning and emerged seven minutes later on the field-level section, walking through the ballpark in a long line, waving signs and chanting, "Free the Birds."

The procession lasted about 20 minutes, then the fans exited the stadium for more protests.

That left, for the most part, a few thousand fans in the ballpark for the makeup game between the Orioles and Tigers, a 4-3 Baltimore victory. Most of the remaining people appeared to be Tigers fans.

The demonstration was organized by Nestor Aparicio, the owner of sports-talk radio station WNST, in protest of the long losing streak and of the manner in which Mr. Angelos has operated the franchise.

"We have a chance to make a memorable civic statement about how we, as fans, are fed up with the embarrassment that the Orioles have become," Mr. Aparicio told the Associated Press.

Mike Flanagan, former Orioles Cy Young winner and now executive vice president of baseball operations, said after the game that the protest "frankly, reminded me a lot of the 1970s and 1980s when I played. They were into every pitch. I guess in some respects, I wish it would continue on for nine innings with that passion and exuberance."

"We are on the same page with them. We share that same passion and exuberance. I think we are going to have some good news down the road on some issues."

When asked about the specific protests against Mr. Angelos, his employer, Mr. Flanagan said, "I don't think, for the most part that anyone can comment on who should own a club and who shouldn't own a club, along those lines. What came through loud and clear to me is that they are passionate Orioles fans and they want to win, and we want to win."

Mr. Angelos bought the Orioles in 1993 and, for a while, enjoyed success.

The Orioles reached the playoffs in 1996 and 1997, the season in which they drew a franchise-record 3.7 million fans.

The club's fortunes declined sharply afterward: The Orioles have not posted a winning record since 1997, and attendance dropped steadily to a Camden Yards low of 2.4 million in 2003.

The club has drawn just 2 million fans this season and, with three home games remaining, are on pace for yet another record low at Camden Yards.

Most of the fans say Mr. Angelos must sell the team if the Orioles are to return to a rich baseball tradition that includes three World Series championships and six American League pennants won from 1966 to 1983.

During the game, the protesters sat in the upper deck in left center field, chanting slogans that recalled the club's glorious past.

"Elrod Hendricks," they yelled -- a tribute to the late Orioles bullpen coach and fan favorite. Later, it was "Eddie, Eddie," a reference to former Oriole first baseman and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray.

Most to the point, however, was: "Sell the team, sell the team."

Jay Kublis of White Marsh couldn't agree more.

Mr. Angelos "needs to sell the team, and let someone else come in here and bring Baltimore back to the glory days," he said.