The Orioles, Lost On The Field--And Now Off, Too
That Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos has presided over the decline and fall of a great sports franchise has been crystal clear for years now. The passionate but stubborn owner has prevented his baseball people from making deals that might have improved his ballclub. He tried to sabotage the birth and success of Washington's baseball franchise. And he has managed to alienate what used to be one of sports' most loyal and devoted fan bases.
But now Angelos has topped himself, breaking with the rest of the sport by seeking to undermine the authority and impact of former Sen. George Mitchell's report on the widespread use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs by Major League players.
Angelos backed up his attack on the Mitchell report--"the Orioles caution observers to resist the temptation to accept collective judgments based upon unsubstantiated allegations," a team statement said--with incendiary comments to the New York Times: Angelos said he had problems with "the substance of the report, the method of execution."
Ever the courtroom advocate, Angelos has confused his career as a ferocious defense lawyer with his responsibility as a team owner to rein in wayward athletes, send a moral message to fans and their kids, and play his part as leader of an important community institution.
To be sure, Angelos had more than the average owner's share of headaches from the Mitchell report. With popular second baseman Brian Roberts atop the list, the Orioles faced the embarrassing reality of having a whopping 19 current or former players on Mitchell's roster of people who used or obtained steroids and other banned substances.
Contrast Angelos' Clintonian parsing of the language and methods Mitchell used with the words of Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten, who made it clear to his team's fans that the Nats are "disappointed" that new catcher Paul LoDuca and several ex-Nats were named in the report. Far from criticizing the sport's investigation of the steroids scandal, Kasten is now urging his players to cooperate with the commissioner or others who might pursue the report's findings.
Do the Nats have less to lose in the steroids matter than the Orioles? Well, yes, if you look at it in the most mercenary and narrow way possible. There are far more ex-O's than ex-Nats in the report. But in the longer view, both teams should have the same motives: To win back the trust of fans, to clean up the game's reputation and reality, and to send the message to their scouts, coaches and executives that the era of winking at drug use is over.
The punditsphere is chockablock with apologias for steroid and hormone use these days: Oh, it's not so bad, some columnists and talk show hosts say. After all, everyone (or at least half of players, according to some reports) does it. Or they ask why steroid use in baseball is any worse than the gross breeding and grooming of 350-pound linebackers or the obscene worldwide hunt for talented and very tall children who might someday become pro basketball players.
The simple answer, of course, is that while athletes will always be tempted to train themselves to the nth degree or experiment with any exercise regimen that might improve their performance, this scandal is about illegal steroid use. It's one thing to abuse your body legally, something else entirely to break the law in the effort to beat the other team or set a personal record. And it's not just the breaking of the law that matters here, but rather the powerful message that's sent when pros cheat. Ask any scholastic or out-of-school youth coach and you'll get the same testimony: What the pros do has a huge impact on what teenagers do. That's not the sanctimonious claim that some observers are now dismissing. Rather, it's the plain, painful truth.
When a good lawyer and bad team owner like Peter Angelos forgets what his job requires of him, he is not only hurting his own business, he's undermining the credibility and authority of his sport--and that hurts people far beyond any stadium.
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