Baseball

Peter Schmuck: Despite speculation, Orioles not on market to be moved or sold

If you're still wondering, the Orioles aren't being sold and will not be moving to Nashville, Tenn., a couple of notions that a high-ranking team official labeled this week as "nonsense."

It's not hard to understand why there is a simmering civic paranoia surrounding the team, and why the local business community and fans are buzzing about the future of the club.

The current team is a mess, attendance is in chronic decline and a lengthy rebuild is just getting underway. The Orioles are battling the Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball in court over television rights fees, and the Camden Yards lease could expire in 2021.

But leaving town cures nothing.

Move out of the region and they'd have to leave behind the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which has helped the value of the team climb to more than an estimated $1 billion.

Worried about the lease? They have a five-year option built into their contract with the Maryland Stadium Authority.

On the baseball front, they knew what they were getting into with their rebuilding process. They knew they would suffer both in the win column and at the box office in the early stages of trying to build a sustainable elite talent pipeline.

On top of that, even if the outcome of the MASN lawsuit were so negative for the Orioles as to make a move or sale attractive, either would have to be approved by MLB, which has been at odds with Orioles ownership over the MASN situation for several years.

Orioles executive vice president John Angelos did not respond to an interview request this week to discuss the media reports regarding a possible sale or move, and that isn't surprising.

The team's ownership group is headed by the Angelos family, lawyers who would never say never until ink dries on a contract, so the latest round of sale and relocation rumors have not been debunked publicly. But a high-ranking Orioles official called recent media reports about a possible sale "rank speculation" and said whispers about the team moving to Nashville are ridiculous.

It's pretty clear Baltimore sports fans already have an abandonment complex that dates to the dark and stormy night in 1984 when the Mayflower vans rolled out and the beloved Colts relocated to Indianapolis.

That left the Orioles as the only major professional sports franchise in Baltimore until the Ravens arrived in 1996. The funding and construction of Oriole Park at Camden Yards was fueled by concern in the late 1980s that the Orioles also might be tempted to leave.

The latest speculation about a possible franchise shift has been swirling for at least a year, beginning as soon as it became apparent John and Louis Angelos had taken over operation of the team from their ailing father. Several cities have been mentioned – most notably Nashville and Las Vegas – and rumors of a move to Tennessee gained added credence from the fact that John Angelos and his wife own a home there.

But those who have long known the Angelos family doubt they would cost Baltimore the Orioles. They would not want to be forever linked to Robert Irsay, who has been reviled in this city since he moved the Colts under the cover of night.

"Paranoia is obvious. In many ways, it's a perfect storm," said David Nevins, former president of The Center Club and Comcast SportsNet and current CEO of Nevins and Associates, a Towson-based marketing and communications firm.

"However, I believe we also have a family of owners whose loyalty and support of Baltimore is practically beyond equal. They will act responsibly to protect and promote their hometown."

John Angelos, 51, made it clear over the past year that the family has no intention of moving or selling the team, especially when introducing new Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias in November. The family has owned the Orioles since buying the team at auction in 1993.

"We have a lot of staying power for the long haul," Angelos said during the Elias news conference. "No major changes. I'm looking forward to the next 25 years."

Still, whispers about a possible sale persist and an unofficial list of possible local buyers surfaced in media reports – a fairly predictable who's who of the movers and shakers in the Baltimore business community.

Abell Foundation president Robert C. Embry Jr., one person mentioned, was surprised to read his name on that list in a recent article that quoted unnamed sources indicating the Orioles were in "extensive discussions" to sell the team.

"That's news to me," Embry said Tuesday. "I don't know how my name was connected to it. I don't have anywhere near that kind of money, and as far as the foundation is concerned, that has never come up."

Embry did say he's heard concern expressed in the business community about the future of the Orioles because of all the logical reasons – the relocation rumors, Baltimore's crime problem, the ongoing dispute over MASN rights fees, and the possible expiration of the stadium lease.

That isn't surprising, but John Angelos has said on multiple occasions that his family is committed to Baltimore regardless of the outcome of the MASN litigation.

"We start with the idea that the Orioles are a public trust and the goal of this ownership group of local Marylanders is to do right by the franchise in all respects," Angelos said in November.

Famed local investor Bill Miller, who confirmed he would be interested in "looking at" the Orioles if they went up for sale, doesn't see strong concern among the local business community that the team will move out of Baltimore whether it is sold or not.

"There's certainly no evidence or any interest that I've seen or heard of about people moving the team," Miller said.

"But if the team does come up for sale at some point, I think the probabilities are very high that either there would be a local buyer who would keep it here or a nonlocal buyer who would keep it here, but moving it would be a low probability."

Miller pointed to the Orioles' storied history and the temporary nature of their current issues as reasons the franchise would likely be stronger staying put than it would be anywhere else. Camden Yards also remains a jewel among MLB stadiums.

"Baltimore is not only a great sports town; it's been a great baseball town," he said. "Any sensible owner would have to find somewhere that was so much better than Baltimore. I just don't see that."

Though the Maryland Stadium Authority declined an interview request from The Sun, it did release a statement this week in an attempt to quiet any concern about the ongoing lease negotiations and the cooperative relationship between the MSA and the team.

"The MSA enjoys an excellent working relationship with the Baltimore Orioles and is pleased with our recent efforts to enhance the fan experience and increase revenues at the ballpark," the statement read.

If the Angelos family did want to enter into negotiations to sell the team, MLB rules require official notification is made to the commissioner's office before proceeding.

"A club must notify and receive permission from MLB before it is put up for sale," MLB chief communications officer Pat Courtney said in an email to The Sun.

Courtney, however, said MLB policy is to not comment on whether a club is exploring selling.

But the idea of the team leaving or being sold makes little sense.

Nevins said he would be "hard pressed" to find a family more loyal to the city than the Angeloses, pointing to their philanthropic efforts involving the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland.

"I assume there is no doubt that when the time comes, they will look at their options," Nevins said. "But as someone who knows them and someone who knows how loyal to and supportive of Baltimore as they've been, I would be very, very surprised that they would pick any actions that would allow the team to leave their hometown."

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