Two weeks into the 2006 major league baseball season, Melvin Mora was leading the Orioles in home runs and clutch hits.
Melvin Mora converted to third base two years ago. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
Baltimoreans dread the thought of losing yet another star player to free agency. And they are placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of team owner Peter Angelos, just as they did the departures of Mike Mussina, Rafael Palmeiro (after his first and most successful tenure with the Orioles), and B.J. Ryan.
Mora is one of the few current players who lives year-round in the Baltimore area. (Sabina Moran/PressBox)
The owner is a lawyer and has proven to be exceptionally shrewd as a negotiator in most of his endeavors: real estate, asbestos litigation, tobacco settlements, even wheedling an incredibly lucrative television deal from Major League Baseball in exchange for not opposing placement of a team in Washington.
But he has not been nearly as adept at negotiating new contracts with core players vital to the team's fortunes on the field, as well as to its fans' psyches and perceptions of the ball club. Since purchasing the Orioles in 1993, Angelos has demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of Baltimore's passionate nexus with its baseball team. He has severed or impaired the organization's relationships with so many icons from its rich history -- Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Davey Johnson, Mussina, broadcaster Jon Miller, even, to an extent, Cal Ripken -- that he has left his team's most ardent followers numb and conflicted.
Fans still love the Orioles, but they're finding it hard to root for their team as long as it's under Angelos' rule.
The sad thing is, the Orioles want to keep Mora, and he wants to remain with the club. The father of six -- including quintuplets -- he is one of only a handful of current players who lives year-round in the Baltimore area. He also is one of the Orioles most willing to represent the team in public appearances.
Since the Orioles brought him to Camden Yards in mid-2000 in a brilliant trade for Mike Bordick (whom they got back the following season), Mora has been one of their best and most dedicated players. He compiled the highest seasonal batting average in club history -- .340-in 2004. At the team's request, he agreed to convert from the outfield (and shortstop) to third base two years ago, and since then has become one of baseball's top third baseman. Last year he made the American League All-Star team.
Mora averaged about $3.5 million in annual salary over the past three seasons, earning less than far inferior third basemen. At thirty-four, his next contract will likely be the last that earns him significant money, at least in major league baseball parlance.
One reason the Orioles haven't offered him the $27 million he wants is because of his age; there's always uncertainty concerning when a player's skills will begin to ebb. The team reportedly is offering $24 million for three years, and Mora had been asking for $30 million. The day before the season began, Angelos invited Mora to lunch. Mora then reduced his request from $30 million to $27 million. Angelos refused to budge from the club's $24 million offer.
Angelos has expressed optimism that he yet will sign Mora. And club vice president Jim Duquette says the Orioles can still try to woo Mora back after the season ends and before he reaches free-agent status in late autumn. But that kind of thinking and Angleos' belief in the power of his own negotiating skills to sign players are what lost the team Mussina and Palmeiro.
Until the ink is actually put to paper, each new Mora home run and clutch RBI will continue to thrust a dagger into the hearts of the Orioles' most loyal advocates.
Issue 1.1: April 27, 2006