BALTIMORE — On Saturday night, on the eve of the final day of the worst season in franchise history, soon-to-be-departing fan favorite Adam Jones declared it was the end of an era for the Baltimore Orioles.
He wasn’t talking about his time in Baltimore. He was referring to the expected exit of Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
It was never an era, though. They were moments of sanity and success, patched together over the course of five seasons — from 2012 to 2016 — but it was never sustained. Not even Showalter could build something sustainable while battling the petty and incompetent ownership of Peter Angelos.
No, those five years of winning, for the most part, and three playoff appearances were the epitome of succeeding in spite of your surroundings, not because of them. Inevitably, though, the disease rooted in the B&O Warehouse was too strong to resist. And now you have the infected 115-loss Baltimore Orioles of 2018, and the widespread speculation that Showalter, whose contract is up, won’t be retained (surprisingly, reports are general manager Dan Duquette, who was the odds-on favor to leave, will be staying).
Showalter downplayed what his future may be with this organization in what may have been his final pre-game press conference Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards.
“Mr. Angelos and his family have been great to me, so whatever direction they choose to go I’m at peace with it,” Showalter said.
The irony is that the direction this franchise chooses to go may not be decided by the Angelos family.
Reports are that Peter Angelos, at the age of 89, has been battling health problems and has left much of the business of running the team to his two sons, John and Lou Angelos. The powers-that-be in baseball don’t see that duo as the future of this franchise moving forward. So I suspect that sometime in the near future — perhaps this winter — the Orioles will be put up for sale.
A house is about to fall on the business with the anticipated decision in the long drawn-out dispute between the Orioles and the Washington Nationals, which could stand to get more than $100 million from the Orioles in the fight for the split of revenues from MASN, the regional cable network.
The Baltimore Sun reported in July that the Orioles have offered several settlements, but the Lerner family, the Nationals owners, aren’t in the settlement business when they are the party owed money. The dispute once again, after a number of court actions, will be presented to an arbitration panel in November.
Baseball doesn’t like business partners that take them to court — it just isn’t done — and they have clearly punished the franchise for refusing to initially go along with the panel decision awarding new fees to the Nationals, as part of the agreement creating MASN when the Montreal Expos moved to Washington in 2005.
The Orioles have failed to get consideration in their bid to host another All-Star Game (they last hosted in 1993), their schedules have been burdensome and MLB bosses would like nothing better to have the franchise in other hands.
A fight like that against a formidable lawyer like Peter Angelos would scare baseball away. The Angelos boys, they’re not too worried about.
The franchise is perhaps at its lowest level, setting a record for losses this year with 115, just the fifth team in modern baseball history to have lost that many games in a season. They traded superstar Manny Machado. Attendance has dropped to 1.5 million — 200,000 lower than the previous worst year at the turnstiles at Camden Yards and the lowest for the club for a full season of play since 1978. And they’ll get no help from baseball climbing out of this grave that the Angelos ownership has dug for itself — just the opposite — likely setting the stage to force a sale and then truly the end of an era.
Nobody has owned the Orioles franchise longer than Peter Angelos. Jerry Hoffberger was a part-owner starting in 1954, when the St. Louis Browns moved to Baltimore, but didn’t become majority owner until 1965. He would sell the franchise to Washington lawyer Edward Bennett Williams in 1979.
Peter Angelos has been the managing general partner and primary owner of the franchise since he bought it for $173 million at a bankruptcy auction in New York in August 1993. He outbid art dealer — and future Expos and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria — by $1 million. Since then, save for the 1996-1997 playoff appearances and the 2012-2016 Showalter reign, Angelos’ ownership has been a disaster for Orioles fans.
There had been signs this year that the Angelos boys were trying to change the culture of the business. They instituted the ticket program that allows children 9 years old and under to attend games free. They have tapped into the franchise’s rich pre-Angelos baseball tradition by bringing back beloved icon Brooks Robinson as a special adviser and community liason, as well as Hall of Famer Eddie Murray. They announced the hiring of a chief operating officer — former Miami Heat executive John Vidalin — in July (though he appears to be in the witness protection program, neither seen nor heard).
But some things never change.
Adam Jones has probably been this team’s most important and admired player since Cal Ripken in his 11 years in Baltimore. He will be a free agent at the end of this season, and likely played his last game as an Oriole Sunday. Before the game, he was honored as the team’s Most Valuable Player for the season in a vote by local media and did his own lap around the stadium, a la Ripken, in saying goodbye to fans. But the order came down for no official goodbye or recognition for Jones from the team, as management is still sore about his refusal to waive his 10-and-5 rights to be traded at the deadline this season.
Now he and Showalter may ride out of town together. The owners may be right behind them.
• You can hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.