Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The venerable and venerated Sports Illustrated has fallen victim in recent years to bombast and balderdash on too many of its slick pages, substituting quick hits for much of its formerly substantial journalism. Most of this material is pointless and some of it ludicrous, such as last weeks players poll that ranked Peter Angelos as only the fourth-worst owner in baseball.

Say what? Does anyone in his right mind think there could be three owners who have done more to sabotage their franchises than King Peter? If so, in what pile of sand, or gamier detritus, has that voter buried his bean?

This is the equivalent of saying Barry Bonds merely is the game’s fourth-biggest cheater. Or perhaps that Bud Selig is the fourth-worst commissioner in the history of rounders.

To borrow a line from SIs own assortment of dubious departments, this truly is a Sign of the Apocalypse.

Do you suppose Angelos has friends in high places at Time Inc., which publishes SI? Or perhaps the “players’ poll” was conducted solely among jocks longing to collect the latest handful of free agent millions, or billions, from his Orioles.

The magazine says the poll was conducted “of 464 MLB players,” but it doesnt say when. Perhaps the survey took place before 1998, when the Os began their current run of nine consecutive losing seasons under the untender ministrations of Angelos and his minions.

So what do you think, Mark McGwire? Surely we can take your word as gospel truth.

And what say you, Rafael Palmeiro? We know youre as honest as the day is long — in December, that is.

According to SI, Angelos was beaten out in the worst category by (1) David Glass of the Royals, (2) Jeffrey Loria of the Marlins and (3) Stuart Sternberg of the Devil Rays.

Fat chance. To surpass the demolition job Angelos has done in Charm City, these inestimable gentlemen might have to destroy the Harry S. Truman Library in suburban Independence, Mo.; South Beach; and the Gulf of Mexico.

Oh, I might be able to think of worse owners in the history of rounders. Lets see, there was Harry Frazee, whose sale of Babe Ruth and other Red Sox stars in the early 1920s ruined baseball in Beantown for two decades. Or William Cox, who was banned by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in the early 1940s for betting on games. And all those countless, witless, socially immoral magnates who conspired “unofficially” to keep black players out of the major leagues from 1884 to 1947.

Over the last 30 years, though, its hard to match Angelos achievement in turning one of baseballs best franchises into one of its worst. (And, of course, he deserves extra scorn from Washington fans for doing his darndest to keep the national pastime out of the nations capital.)

For more than 25 years, dating back to the mid-1960s, the Orioles had baseballs best aggregate record — better than the Yankees, better than the Dodgers, better than the Cardinals. Since Angelos became principal owner in 1993, the Orioles have seriously contended only in 1996 and 1997, and that was mainly because Davey Johnson arguably was the best manager in the game.

Of course, Angelos soon fired Johnson — along with possibly the games best general manager (Pat Gillick) and even the games best broadcaster (Jon Miller).

There should have been more than enough glory for everybody in those years. Turns out there was only enough for Peter.

Mainly, Angelos has wrecked the Orioles by ignoring the advice of his baseball people and changing them as often as some people change underwear. Everybody this side of George Steinbrenner knows you have to build strong franchises from the ground up rather than seeking futile quick fixes by hurling big bucks at whatever free agents are out there. Everybody except Angelos, that is.

I feel sorriest for executive vice president Mike Flanagan, who remembers when the so-called “Oriole Way” meant absolute success rather than abject failure. The former Cy Young Award winner is a throwback to the Os of Brooks, Frank, Earl, Pancakes, Boog, Davey and both Cals, Senior and Junior. I wonder what goes through his mind these days as he takes orders from a boss who knows more about asbestos than baseball.

Truly this weekend will be a mixed bag for Orioles fans. On Sunday afternoon, Ripken Jr. will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as perhaps 15,000 faithful eyewitnesses choose to honor the past rather than mourn the moment. It will be a happy moment and a sad one, all at he same time.

Peter Angelos as the fourth-worst owner in baseball? Maybe all those fans inundating Cooperstown in black and orange should hoist copies of Sports Illustrated to the skies — and rip them to shreds.

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