- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2001


Sitting in front of his locker in the clubhouse at the Baltimore Orioles' spring training complex, a coach intently reads his copy of Sports Illustrated.

I won't reveal his name, for fear that he could wind up being sued by owner Peter Angelos just for reading the story.

It's spring training, a time for hope and optimism. Pitchers and catchers began workouts Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale. And the Orioles organization has been roasted for a second straight spring by a national magazine.

Last year it was ESPN the Magazine, with an unflattering portrait of the Orioles modeled after the HBO show "The Sopranos."

This year it's Sports Illustrated. "Birdbrained" is the headline on the SI article that, as we like to say in the business, rips the Orioles a new one hardly a difficult operation for this organization.

The story reports a litany of embarrassing mistakes by Angelos and his dysfunctional front office, including a bizarre story about how an offer made by Syd Thrift, vice president of baseball operations, to relief pitcher Tom Gordon, was pulled at the last minute by Angelos.

The story goes that Gordon's agent, Rick Thurman, came to Baltimore to finalize a three-year deal with Thrift and Angelos. But in a meeting at Angelos' law office (the SI article incorrectly reported the meeting taking place at the club's offices in the B&O; Warehouse), Angelos read the contract before it was signed, pulled Thrift into another office and loudly berated him for nearly an hour as Thurman sat alone, waiting.

Then Angelos came out and told Thurman no deal at least not that deal.

I bet Tom Gordon thought he had his share of weirdness when Stephen King wrote a novel about him. He hadn't yet encountered baseball's version of the Cuckoo's Nest.

This is the time of year when all teams even bad ones can at least talk about good possibilities before the bad realities begin on Opening Day. The Orioles don't even get that grace period anymore. On the first day of camp, the talk was about the SI article.

"I haven't read it yet, but I guess it's a doozy," manager Mike Hargrove said. "My mother told me a doctor she knows back in Amarillo read it and said it was the worst piece of journalism he had ever read in his life."

The amusing thing is that what will anger Angelos more than anything is the caricature that accompanies the article a drawing showing the owner in a close-up enlarged head squeezing an Oriole bird in his fist, with Camden Yards in the background. That will drive him crazy.

It also will make him dig further into the bunker. There's a line in the film "Hoffa" where Jack Nicholson, playing the legendary labor leader, declares, "If the newspapers and the president are telling me I'm wrong, I gotta be right."

That's the way Angelos reacts the more criticism, the more stubborn the reaction.

It's not particularly fun writing the same thing over and over again about this franchise recounting the numerous mistakes that have led to its demise and predicting how lousy the team will be. It gets old writing it, and it certainly must get old reading it.

"Right now we are an easy target," Hargrove said. "What we want to do is not make it so easy."

If they have any hope of doing that, it is with Hargrove, who with Mike Mussina gone and Cal Ripken on the way out is the team's best symbol of credibility and hope for the future.

Hargrove tried yesterday to muster up some positive spring training vibes by saying, "There really are a lot of good things happening with this franchise. It's an exciting opportunity."

The club has been selling the promise of youth, and it would be great to write about any real optimism concerning the arms of young pitchers like John Parrish and Luis Rivera. But the fact is that these are not highly touted prospects, and they have no track records to get excited about. There is no reason to believe they will succeed, other than the fact that they haven't failed yet.

But it's spring training in Florida. It's 82 degrees, the sun is shining, and I'm determined to write something good about what is happening down here with the Orioles.

There's an Irish Festival in the parking lot starting today, so here's an Irish toast: "An Irishman is never drunk as long as he can hold onto one blade of grass and not fall off the face of the earth."

See, if you try hard enough enough, you can find the good in anything.

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