Two months of success ruined the Baltimore Orioles.
In July 1996, when Camden Yards was the jewel of major-league stadiums and the team carried the second-highest payroll in baseball, Orioles owner Peter Angelos started to veto trades arranged by his general manager, Pat Gillick. The first few were minor. Then Angelos got bold and nixed deals that would have shipped Bobby Bonilla and David Wells for prospects. And wouldn't you know, the Orioles got hot, won 38 of their final 61, nabbed the American League wild card. Were it not for Jeffrey Maier and his sticky fingers, who knows what would have come of the ALCS?
Whatever the case, it emboldened Angelos, a dangerous prospect seeing as he already toted around the ego of a lawyer who settled nine-figure cases. And it doesn't take one of those amateur CSI kits to find his fingerprints all over the degeneration of the franchise from one of baseball's proudest to one with 10 consecutive losing seasons.
So it's a welcome sight, then, to see star pitcher Erik Bedard traded to Seattle for five players following more limbo than a bad wedding. Whether the holdup occurred because of Angelos – the centerpiece of the deal, Adam Jones, spilled the beans on the forthcoming deal, reportedly much to Angelos' dismay – is irrelevant. Because were Angelos truly meddling in proper fashion, the prospect of the deal – trading a 28-year-old left-hander who may well win a Cy Young Award or two – would have scared him into pulling out his inkpad, dipping his stamp in it and affixing DENIED onto anything Andy MacPhail proposed.
MacPhail is the Orioles' latest general manager – Larry Fortensky to Angelos' Elizabeth Taylor. Since Angelos bought the team for $173 million in 1993, he has shuttled through Roland Hemond, Gillick, Frank Wren, Syd Thrift, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, allowing none a proper chance to run the franchise.
In the past, Angelos has thought autonomy means the study of cars. Whether Angelos actually would grant MacPhail full control was the biggest question upon his hiring in June, and that lingered into the offseason, when, more than ever, Baltimore screamed for a rebuilding plan.
For years, Angelos' chicanery forged the Orioles headlong into mediocrity. He negotiated Albert Belle's albatross contract that saddled Baltimore early in the decade. He declined to trade Miguel Tejada at the peak of his value, when the Angels would have given up at least two top prospects. Last season, he scuttled an agreed-upon trade that would have sent second baseman Brian Roberts to Atlanta – mainly because Angelos was fond of Roberts as a person.
That might be a good excuse for a fantasy owner. With Angelos, it registered as another blunder. The only thing surer in Baltimore than the necessity of the Orioles' rebuilding was a McNulty relapse.
MacPhail, apparently, has lobotomized Angelos enough to start the process. MacPhail's trade of Tejada to Houston was brilliant regardless of how many of the five players he acquired in return pan out, as it happened on the eve of the Mitchell Report's release. With the double whammy hitting via Congress' investigation into Tejada possibly perjuring himself, the Orioles ridded themselves of that mess just in time.
And now comes the Bedard trade, a haul that some scouts believe exceeds the package Minnesota got for Johan Santana. Since Brady Anderson left in 2001, the Orioles have tested more than 20 players in center field. Jones – 22 years old, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, fast, strong, smart – should end that merry-go-round.
George Sherrill, one of the best left-handed relievers in the game last season, may close with Chris Ray out for the year following Tommy John surgery. And the final three will give Baltimore a killer intramural hoops team: 6-foot-5 pitcher Chris Tillman is a potentially dominant 19-year-old who should start the season at Double-A, 6-foot-7 pitcher Tony Butler is a left-hander who one scout calls a "sleeper, potential star" and 6-foot-9 Kam Mickolio is a reliever who has allowed four home runs in 86 minor-league innings.
Though the trade leaves the Orioles without a bona fide opening-day starter – Jeremy Guthrie? Daniel Cabrera? – it fortifies their directions: down in the standings this season and next, up in the future without having to spend gobs in free agency. If Angelos can muster the courage to trade Roberts to the Cubs – he's gnawing his nails to nubs thinking about it – it will show that his commitment to winning exceeds whatever knowledge he believes he possesses.
Any study of Angelos' tenure as Orioles owner bleeds with red flags. Never mind that he ignored the performance-enhancing drug issue as his clubhouse turned into an emporium, replete with everything except lava lamps. Nearly every other owner did too.
No, the disregard for the franchise's well-being to feed his own beast of an ego rings loudest still. Angelos, always front and center in the courtroom with his closing arguments, wanted the same feeling as Orioles owner.
A dozen years later, maybe he's starting to get it.