- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

The only thing more difficult for Peter Angelos to swallow than his Baltimore Orioles being lousy would be for his Baltimore Orioles to be successful with Cal Ripken running the team.

He would rather smoke five packs of cigarettes a day in an asbestos cocoon than let Ripken be the hero who saves the franchise Angelos destroyed.

The word is that Ripken learned Angelos would not hire him for the general manager's post under the conditions he sought, namely, reasonable control over baseball decisions. He might as well have asked Angelos for a donation to support baseball in Washington. Following that revelation, Ripken declared he was too busy with his other work and that the time wasn't right to pursue this job.

"As exciting as the opportunity is, I am heavily involved in my youth initiatives, the project in Aberdeen and the Cal Ripken Foundation," he said through a spokesman. "I discovered during the process that, for me, the timing wasn't right." (By the way, what Ripken is doing in Aberdeen the youth academy, the beautiful minor league ballpark you can see from Interstate 95 and the whole baseball experience has a chance to be a huge success, a national baseball destination).

If he hadn't realized it before, Ripken now knows that a working relationship with Angelos could only have ended in an ugly scene. Just inquiring about the job turned messy. There is no other way.

Look at Syd Thrift, the so-called vice president of baseball operations for the Orioles. Here is a guy who was Angelos' closest baseball advisor the past seven years on the surface, a loyal soldier, no easy task for Thrift. Now, he is twisting in the wind, being publicly humiliated as candidates are brought to Baltimore to interview for his job. Some would say it's justice. OK, I would say it's justice.

I wrote a year ago that the best thing Angelos could do to restore credibility to his franchise would be to turn over the baseball operation to Ripken but I doubted it ever would happen. Angelos never would agree to give Ripken the control he would want and need to get the Orioles' house in order, particularly after the owner has been leading Thrift Angelos' personal stat boy around by the nose for the past three years.

Angelos has not given total control to a general manager since he purchased the team after the 1993 season not even to Pat Gillick. And he hasn't had a real general manager in charge since he fired Frank Wren more than three years ago. And now Angelos is going to turn over the keys to the Orioles to the icon of the franchise? The same player Angelos used to rip to his own teammates? I don't think so.

Then again, maybe Ripken should reconsider and take the Orioles job under any circumstances, or else he may never step on a major league baseball field again. Cadillac Bud Selig may seek to ban him if he crosses the All and Mighty Powerful Angelos, who, according to Sunday's Washington Post, has become one of the most influential owners in baseball.

If that is the case, maybe Washington should set its sights on a different Canadian team a franchise in the Canadian Baseball League, the new league being set up in the Great White North. We could be the lone Washington entry. After all, if Angelos is now a power broker among his fellow owners, then there is no shot at the Montreal Expos being relocated to the Washington area, right?

"His influence was vastly overstated," said one baseball management source who asked not to be identified. "Baseball in Washington is inevitable. I don't know when, if it is next year or the year after, but it is inevitable."

It is all one big franchise poker game. Angelos is trying to create two illusions: one, that he has the backing of his fellow owners to stop baseball from returning to Washington; and two, that a franchise in the Washington area would severely damage the Orioles. Those cards have been dealt, and I don't see either one being a winning hand.

But Angelos is not the only one in the game. Major League Baseball is trying to run its own bluff that there is competition to land the Expos. Portland, San Juan and Charlotte have been floated as permanent locations. But now even the owners realize that no one believes any of those locations places in which no ownership groups have surfaced could compete with Washington. There are three ownership groups in the District ready to bid on the Expos. So be prepared to hear more about Washington's latest competition for a team: northern New Jersey.

"The market could certainly support another team there," one management source said. "It would be seen as another way to level the playing field more for other franchises against the Yankees and the Mets. And you could surely find people with money to buy a franchise in a market like that."

There's just one problem: Unlike Angelos, who holds no territorial rights over Washington, both the Yankees and the Mets control the territorial rights over the New York market, which includes northern New Jersey.

"This is Yankees and Mets country," George Zoffinger, president of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, told The Washington Times last month.

So the game continues. The owners will meet later this month to officially decide what to do with the Expos a franchise in which each owner holds a 1/29th share. Major League Baseball purchased the Expos from Jeffrey Loria last winter in the deal that allowed Loria to buy the Florida Marlins from John Henry, who in turn purchased the Boston Red Sox. If the owners, as expected, decide to operate the Expos for another year it will cost them between $50 million and $60 million in salaries and near that amount in losses. A few games in Puerto Rico won't make a whole lot of difference.

Sooner or later they have to sell the Expos to someone, and the franchise is worth more to buyers in Washington than it is to any other buyer, real or imagined. When it comes time to recoup their losses and sell the Expos, we shall see how many friends Peter Angelos has in baseball. Then, when there is a team in Washington, it will be too late to open the door to Cal Ripken. He will then be ours.

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