This deal with MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), the estimates are that the valuation of the team and the network is near $1 billion. Is that accurate?
Is that figure in the ballpark?
That it has increased the ultimate value of the franchise is correct, although they are really two separate animals. MASN is partially owned by the Nationals, and the Nationals' interests will increase as the years pass by. For us, confronted with the immediate competition in what was our fan area, it's in many ways a lifesaver. And that was the purpose to see to it that, as I said, the O's franchise would have access to additional funds to remain competitive.
When you took over the team in 1993, you hit on the coattails of almost a perfect confluence of events. You had the new stadium, you had tremendous fan support built in and you had no NFL team here. All of those things are a little different now. There is an NFL team that has established some roots here; the stadium, while still fantastic, is not a novelty for the fans here in the area; and the team is coming off a run of nine consecutive losing seasons. How do you think you can turn that around to the point of people caring about the Orioles again, the way they used to?
Well, the presence of the football team obviously results in some fans shifting loyalty from baseball, which is all they had, to the football schedule, which has great appeal. So we understood that was going to happen.
[In] the 12-13-year period you are talking about, many things have happened during that time, along with football coming back, which is fine. If the public wants [football], they ought to have access to it. If they want their own team, it's an old tradition here in Maryland. In fact, football got its real start here in Baltimore. Certainly, if the Baltimore metro area and the state of Maryland want a team, they ought to have it, and they do have it.
Mr. Bisciotti is an excellent owner. [He is] a great guy, a real Baltimore guy. So it all fits perfectly in that area.
The presence of another team close to us is a problem. I do think that a baseball team in the nation's capital is positive for MLB. [By] not having a team for all those years, something was sort of missing for MLB. Those who are great fans of baseball say that it's our national pastime. And there is a lot of truth in that. It's great tradition and having a team in Washington is a good thing.
We were concerned it would cause us severe economic problems . . . it already has caused us a certain loss of fan support. And we have lost fan support from the losing seasons. But we think we can restore that portion by way of investing more dollars in the club. We have a very low average ticket price. The Boston Red Sox tickets are over $45, ours $22. When [Fenway Park is] filled with 35,000 at $45 per and we are filled with 46,000 at $22, at the end of the day when the money is counted, that money is what ultimately determines how much one has [available] to spend on players. They are so far ahead of us, I can't do it in my head without writing on paper, but I would simplify it by saying in order for us to match what they take in [during a game] where they have a sell-out at 35,000 at $45 dollars [a ticket], we would have to have a ballpark that would hold 70,000 and sell that park out.
They are doing this day in and day out. And they are selling out and have a rabid fan base. [The] strongest baseball fans are, I think, the Boston fans. And they went 80 years and didn't win a damned thing but they were supported and they are fortunate to have that kind of fan base. Our problem has been [an inability] to generate the kind of revenue that is needed to compete in the AL East.
Does that job get somewhat more manageable with the MASN dollars?
Well, I don't like to lose…That's not my game. And then a team was introduced into D.C. along with the disparities I am talking about (with the Yankees it's even greater). [The Yankees and Red Sox are] the two teams of the five in the AL East who are generating the enormous streams of revenue with which Toronto, Tampa Bay and the Orioles have had to deal with for these last seven, eight, nine years. I would really say the past seven years or so we have been, along with the other two teams, at the bottom of the totem pole with New York and Boston at the top…both of which have RSN's (Regional Sports Networks) like we just managed to accomplish, and have had them for years. So, their revenues have been so substantial by comparison to Toronto, Tampa Bay and the Orioles.
In answer to your question, now that we have an RSN and we can move forward with it…that is going get us on a more even plane with Boston and New York, and that was the purpose. It was even more desperately needed when a team dropped right into the area you have been drawing a very substantial number of fans from for many years.
You have been a winner at everything in life. How tough has this run been where you haven't been able to be successful on the playing field?
It's very difficult to accept and I think that was what probably motivated me to get moving on the RSN when the opportunity was there. I managed to negotiate arrangements whereby that became a possibility.
That is going to provide relief and my game is to improve the status of the Orioles and get the team back on a winning basis. . . which I think (I don't want to make predictions because they say, "Well, he predicted that last year and so on,") is the goal. That is the purpose of the entire effort.
So anyone who thinks that Peter Angelos is not competitive and that his competitive juices aren't there is sadly mistaken?
Yes, that is true, and I think that is true of all people who get into owning a professional franchise. Take a David Glass, who owns the Royals. [He] is as competitive as anyone, but he is restricted in what he can do. [Glass] can put in his own money and lose money year after year, and many of us do that. Notwithstanding some contention by some that baseball owners make money. Well, the Orioles don't make money and the Orioles need additional funds, which are provided, to make up the difference.
Is that really a fair system, where some teams virtually have no chance to compete? Is there anything MLB can do?
There is revenue sharing, there is a restriction on debt that can be incurred, there have been numerous recent innovations lessening that disparity. We haven't reached that point yet. It's just that kind of game.
For example, I was at a meeting in Milwaukee and everyone was talking about the most recent deal the Astros made giving [pitcher Roy] Oswalt $73 million for five years, $14.5 million a year. (chuckle) That is lunacy. He's going to pitch every fifth day. A good ballplayer and all that, but $14.5.million a year…now come on.
What does that result in? That results in those $45, $46 and $47 average ticket prices. I don't want to raise ticket prices. I want the game to be accessible. But nobody wants to talk about that, they want to talk about those nine losing seasons... The Clancys, the Geppis and all the rest of the people who joined me in buying this ballclub don't want to raise the ticket prices either.
What you end up with if you don't raise ticket prices is a payroll that is respectable at $75 million, but not enough to compete with the boys who have the $45-$47 ticket average and are putting out $130-$140-million dollar payrolls. You become the loser and they become the winner. They become the admired and you are the castigated. That's baseball; I'm not complaining.
You have mentioned quite a bit about the issue of local ownership, and how you brought local ownership back to the Orioles. How do you square that with the fact that the Orioles still don't have Baltimore on the road uniforms?
I am not unwilling to do that. [Putting "Orioles" on the road uniforms] was done a long time ago. It was Jerry Hoffberger who did that. In fact, Edward Bennett Williams didn't do that, who was a Washingtonian. It was Jerry who did that and the reason he did that was to extend the brand out there beyond the city or its immediate environs in order to expand the fan base. And try as he did -- and he put the best teams you ever saw in your life on the field -- he couldn't break a million. Those were the Colt years. And the Ravens have gotten a lot of attention, justifiably. And so, you have that competition now.
Getting back to your question, I don't have any problem with that. I think the focus on that is disturbing. Because, to me, the Oriole team is Baltimore and it's Maryland. Could we say it? Sure, we could say that and maybe we'll do that. But sometimes it's advocated by the same people who are constantly condemning the club and practically telling people: "Don't go watch the games." So it gets to be a personal aspect.
Okay, it is a personal thing, I wonder if this isn't one of those things that you're not doing because people are saying, "Why doesn't he do this?" And that it gets mixed up with the people who are condemning you for everything?
Not really. Well, it could be a component of that in the whole discussion. Let's just say that's not a request that is unreasonable. I have no problem with it.
So, we can say it's a possibility of putting Baltimore on the road uniforms?
No. I just said it's not unreasonable. I said that when Jerry Hoffberger did it way back and EBW maintained it and Eli Jacobs didn't bother with it.
I will tell you that I have the rights to sell the name of the ballpark and I have never done that. I don't want to call it XYZ Bank Ballpark. I am not knocking the football stadium, I am just telling you that Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which was Jacobs' idea, and I think he was right and I still think he was right, is a name known across the country.
The Baltimore issue, you say it's not an unreasonable request. What would it take to suddenly say, "This year we're going to try that?" It wouldn't take anything in particular. It would be a decision really to revamp the uniform to some extent. And we would have to address that, and that may very well be done. I don't really have a problem with that. I might also want to designate the team as Maryland's baseball team. I have had complaints from Marylanders living outside the Baltimore Metro area, complaining we always talk about Baltimore…so maybe a combination might work.
Two issues with the Orioles that have been around for a while are the Florida spring training home and the Triple-A situation. Are those two things you hope to get settled?
We're working on that right now. We have an allocation from the state legislature of Florida and we are working with the city of Ft. Lauderdale and working with Broward County. We should have an announcement with respect to an arrangement whereby the facility in Florida would be completely rebuilt with all the components of a first-class, modern spring training site.
So, you are committed to South Florida and the Ft. Lauderdale area?
Yeah…Baltimoreans and Marylanders like the East Coast and like Lauderdale. It's a lovely town. It has all the comforts. It's a great place to take a short vacation and many Marylanders come down and go to the games. It's a fun place.
There are rumors that the Phillies might move their team to Allentown, Pa. and the Orioles' Triple-A team will move to Scranton, Ohio. Can you comment on that?
I think Scranton would be open. Will our Triple A team be in Scranton? I can't give you an indication, hard to say. There is another situation that I am not at liberty to discuss now… which we would prefer.
What is the highlight of your tenure as Orioles owner?
Ripken. That night was an unusual night, extraordinary. And the way it was produced, by the people who work over there…every day they would unfold the numbers on the Warehouse. The music they put together for the entire ceremony, just unbelievable. How well it was done by all the young people who work over there. And I have to my wife, credit too; she was quite involved in all that. And Julie (Wagner) and others like her, who really worked so hard on that. That was really a great moment. That was after the strike and I thought it really reinstated, to a large degree, fan interest across the country in the game. I always say they'll be playing that tape 100 years from now, when they talk about great sporting events … it'll be Baltimore, it'll be Ripken and it'll be Camden Yards. So, that was great.
My most disappointing moment was in '97, when it looked like we were going to the World Series. We had gone to the playoffs two years in a row…and Mike Mussina pitched the best game I've ever seen pitched and we lost 1-0 because our guys couldn't bring two runs in during the whole game. We must have had 25 guys on second base, and we never got one of them in to at least tie that game. I don't know how we lost that game.
Along those lines, there is a talk radio guy in town, Nestor Aparicio, whose station (WNST) is planning a protest on Sept. 21. Do you understand fans', and I am not talking about concerted efforts, disappointment with the performance of the team on the field?
Of course I understand it, but they have to also understand the reasons.
And some of the reasons are obviously that our people have made mistakes in the selection of players and so on. And that is peculiar to the game of baseball. As far as all this business that I pick the players and all that, that's not true. I am a busy lawyer, I don't have time. I don't go over there. There's an office over there I haven't seen in the last five years.
Do the front office people call me? They call me if they want to commit some substantial sum for a given player. It's a question of dollars and cents. And they have free latitude to make the selections they think appropriate; the only restraint that I would impose is: "What's it going to cost?"
[Those who complain] don't know the ins and outs of what's going on. They have their own lives to lead, their own problems to deal with. And they are not going to become acquainted with what our economics are, and you can't expect them to.
What you can expect, though, that those that comment -- putting aside the fellow you mentioned, who you know is not even worthy of getting into that (chuckles), it really makes no sense to respond to him -- the responsible people, who know baseball and who are baseball fans -- the writers like you -- if they want to criticize, they better look at the economics. They owe it to the public to explain to whoever is interested that the problem is disparity in revenues.
Now, I have heard some of them mention that this MASN development might really generate some real funds which would permit the Orioles to spend more money. That's a pretty strong acknowledgment that the key to all this, to get off the losing years and so on, is more money invested on the field. And obviously, with that becoming available, that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to do that because we are hometown and we are sensitive to what the public is thinking. I know a lot of Baltimore fans, and, just personally, I want them to feel like I am responding to their wishes.
If your current economics don't allow you to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees, how do you explain the success of teams like Minnesota and Oakland, which have been able to be competitive?
The only answer I can give you is better luck, as well as more astute general manager performance. I don't mean that to take away from any other general manager and particularly the people who are with the Orioles. But you have 28 teams that go the other way and you have to look at that and say it appears that money is the issue. But (Terry) Ryan and Billy Beane, and the Marlins, you have to give them some credit, too. And that's not a money deal down there. They have a payroll of under $20 million.
It's also the luck of the draw; don't let anyone tell you different. Take the (Mark) Teixeira example. If we hadn't swept the Yankees the last three games that year, we would have picked one pick in front of Texas and obviously we would have picked Teixeira. And what do we do? Beat the Yankees in the last three games of the year, putting us one game ahead of Texas. They get the selection and they take Teixeira and we don't get him. That's the luck of the draw. You talk about some bad luck. Of course you get your breaks, too. I am still looking around for some of those (chuckles).
Overall, what do you think the state of the franchise is, in terms of the people you have in place?
I am pleased with the performance of Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette as a combination. I think Sam Perlozzo is doing a good job. He's a Marylander, he's a good guy. He has his pal from Cumberland there, Leo Mazzone, and Terry Crowley is a great hitting coach, as attested to by the progress of Nick Markakis, and I think we're in pretty good shape.
I go back to the money. Right now with that $75 million payroll, you need an ace to go with your four young pitchers. You need a left-fielder who can hit 30-35 home runs and --we're talking as if this is Christmas and we were talking to Santa Claus. You'd probably want a first baseman to hit 20-25 home runs and can field the position and some bullpen help. You add those components to this ballclub, you'd have one hell of an interesting ball club.
So, we're not that far away, but what's that going to cost you? I'll tell you, the left fielder -- with what happened with Oswalt -- is going to cost you a $60-75 million commitment. First base, you're talking about similar dollars. Ace pitcher, I don't think you have to go to $14 million, but you're in the $12-13 range. I wouldn't also include the money for the bullpen. And you also have that guy Jim Hoey, who is 6'5, who can throw the ball 100 mph. He just needs a little seasoning and I think Leo Mazzone will take care of that. And that's where you are and from $75 million, we've just jumped up to about $110 million.
Do you have a relationship with (Nationals owner) Theodore Lerner? Do you anticipate being friendly neighbors now that the Nationals exist?
Yes, in fact the entire Lerner family visited us two days in succession earlier in the season. We got to know each other. They are a wonderful group, a very tightly knitted family, each one supportive of the other. Mark Lerner, the son. . . I can't say enough good things about him. He is absolutely a fine guy. And the head of the family, Ted, is just an extraordinary individual who has had extraordinary success. Meeting him and knowing him tells you how he accomplished all those things. He is just a special type of person. So we got along fine, and I think we're going to work together in the future.
Photos: Jim Burger/PressBox
Issue 1.21: September 14, 2006