The public statement issued Monday by John Angelos, chair and CEO of the Baltimore Orioles, offered no ifs, ands or buts about the future of the baseball franchise: “As I have said before, as long as Fort McHenry is standing watch over the Inner Harbor, the Orioles will remain in Baltimore.” He goes on the explain his family’s deep roots in the city and how hundreds of millions of dollars in new state investment in Oriole Park at Camden Yards approved just two months earlier is a key factor to keeping the ballclub here for “generations to come.” The message is clear, the logic is sound, and Mr. Angelos is likely sincere.
So why are so many sports fans in the Baltimore metropolitan area still having flashbacks to 1984 and the day the beloved Colts left the city for greener pastures in Indianapolis? Are they worried that Fort McHenry is packing up, too? Here are two theories. First, too many of us have watched the TV series, “Succession,” and seen how a dysfunctional family, albeit fictional, deals with a patriarch in ill health and then recognized a lot of parallels in the lawsuit filed last week by Louis Angelos against his brother John and mother Georgia. At the center of the dispute is the ailing 92-year-old Peter Angelos. And second, the unhappy departure of the Colts left a gaping hole in this city’s collective psyche over whether Baltimore is a big league city or not. It was a cavity that even the arrival of the Ravens (formerly of Cleveland) in 1996 could not completely heal.
Let’s take some deep breaths, shall we? Major League Baseball franchises don’t tend to pick up and leave town. Even folks in Nashville, who very much want an MLB expansion team, have acknowledged they haven’t even talked to a member of the Angelos family. And that $600 million the Maryland Stadium Authority plans to borrow for improvements at Camden Yards is conditional on the Orioles signing a long-term lease. And while we had some hesitancy about approving such largesse without a game plan over exactly how that money will be spent, we must acknowledge that the Maryland Stadium Authority has a pretty good track record in managing such negotiations. What better moment to dangle stadium upgrades than right now when people fear that some out-of-town ownership group may swoop in to buy the franchise?
And, by the way, here’s another reason for optimism: Did anyone notice the extraordinary success of the sold-out Paul McCartney concert at Camden Yards on Sunday night? Not only were patrons willing to invest thousands of dollars for premium seats near the stage, businesses many blocks away were offering parking spaces for concertgoers at $40 a pop. Apparently, downtown Baltimore is not so bad that the presence of a single Beatle can’t instantly wipe away suburbanite concerns about crime. It didn’t take an army of police using strong-arm tactics to make people feel comfortable; it just took an attraction that was irresistible.
Make no mistake, Baltimore loves its Orioles, and even a bad day at Camden Yards beats a whole lot of other things one could be doing. But there are limits to how much losing any baseball fan can tolerate. If one wants to know why Baltimore has the 8th lowest home attendance so far this season (and the 5th lowest last season), one need only look at the standings. The Orioles are solidly at the bottom of the American League East. Last year, the team had the worst record in the American League with 110 losses (and tied for last in all of MLB with the Arizona Diamondbacks which saw lackluster attendance, too).
We wish the Angelos family well in resolving their differences. But it sounds like they need family counseling, not a fleet of Mayflower moving vans. We can’t blame people for feeling a little paranoid, but there’s already quite a bit of “trust but verify” in the state’s dealings with professional sports franchise owners these days (don’t even get us started on Dan Snyder of the Washington Commanders) ). Meanwhile, let’s not lose track of the bit of spark we’ve seen in the Orioles clubhouse of late from franchise savior/catcher Adley Rutschman to left fielder Austin Hays, the team’s near .300 hitter. If we start seeing Baltimoreans walking around with reproductions of the home run chain around their necks, we’ll be even more convinced that attendance is headed in the right direction and that the obvious joy being expressed inside the clubhouse is catching on outside it — and all despite the ownership travails.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.