Angelos called an old friend, William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor of Baltimore who's now governor of Maryland, and announced his intentions. Recalls Schaefer, "He told me, 'Don, I'm going to buy the Orioles.' I said, 'Pete, that takes a lot of money.' He said, 'I have a lot of money.' So he went out and did it. Typical Pete. When he makes up his mind, nothing stands in his way."
No city needs or deserves local, caring ownership of its team more than Baltimore, a neighborhood-oriented, blue-collar town whose citizens are still somewhat paranoid after losing the NFL Colts and the NBA Bullets. This is a convivial, crab-cake-and-beer town, and it made for a horrible match with the aloof, reclusive Jacobs. He screamed at underlings for the slightest transgression and showed little regard for the team's heritage—he once gave Jim Palmer, the greatest Oriole pitcher ever, the cold shoulder at a Washington restaurant. Jacobs was chauffeured everywhere he went, rarely attended games and when he did show up, used his private box only to hobnob with associates. "Eli didn't care if the ball club won or lost," says one Oriole employee, "as long as the food was on time."
By comparison, Angelos is Baltimore. He's an engaging little man (although he's 5'6", he likes to point out that "I weigh 175 pounds, I wear a 43 jacket—I'm not little") who drives his own car, works 14-hour days, eats lunch at his desk and seems at case with everyone. "I've spoken more to Peter in four months than I did with Mr. Jacobs in four years," Oates says. At a Baltimore restaurant this winter Angelos gleefully engaged in a debate with an 11-year-old boy on ways to improve the team. He even discusses trade possibilities openly with the media, claiming that "the more the public knows, the better."
Angelos grew up in Highlandtown, a lower-middle-class section of Hast Baltimore where the residents still scrub the white marble steps in front of their uniform row houses. The son of Greek immigrants, he tended bar in his father's tavern, where, in the 1950s, some of the Oriole players were patrons. He went to the University of Baltimore Law School at night, then served one term as a city council member and ran for mayor in 1967. "I got clobbered," Angelos says, but he was the city's first mayoral candidate to run on a biracial ticket.
"He's tough as hell," says Schaefer. "He won't back down against anyone."
By the late '70s Angelos was at the forefront in litigating cases on behalf of workers who suffered from exposure to asbestos. Over the past 15 years he has negotiated settlements or won damages totaling more than $1 billion. To date he has represented some 10,000 clients and now operates out of nine offices in five states. He argues many cases himself, seldom using notes. He is characterized by associates as brilliant, willful, a quick study, a street fighter.
As the Orioles' majority owner, Angelos is already living up to his reputation for acumen. He's having swivel seats installed to correct the sight lines in a left-field section of Camden Yards. He's returning some of the stadium's best scats, which Jacobs had turned over to cronies, to season-ticket holders. He intends to use the team's private boxes to entertain civic leaders, from police chiefs to college presidents. Next year he plans to add 1,500 seats, which he says will be designated for free use by children's groups.
Angelos has quickly stamped himself as a hands-on owner even though he's rarely seen around Camden Yards because of the demands of his law practice. Against the wishes of his baseball people, he nixed the signing of free-agent first baseman Will Clark and made the decision not to tender a contract to Olson because he felt that both players, with their recent history of injury, were risky investments. Even so, Jeff Moorad, the agent for both Clark and Olson, says that Angelos "will be tremendous for baseball. He's a bottom-line owner who has a lot of fan in him. It appears he will be as involved as necessary, but sensitive enough to back off the baseball side."
Despite the popularity of many of his early moves, Angelos has created some tension in the club's front office. Baltimore general manager Roland Hemond, one of the most loyal front-office men in the game, became so frustrated at having to consult with Angelos before making personnel moves—and often had so much difficulty locating him—that in late November, he was ready to resign. Angelos talked him out of it, but two members of the business operation have quit since Angelos took over, and two others were fired, leaving that department with mostly accountants and former bankers who have no baseball experience.
The team's president for five years, Larry Lucchino, also resigned last October, turning down Angelos's lucrative offer to become vice chairman of baseball operations because he felt Angelos would insist on handling most of the duties himself. Not that Lucchino faults the new owner. "I'm optimistic that Peter is the last piece of the puzzle," says Lucchino. "His commitment to winning could be the start of a golden era for the Orioles."