In August of 1993, Peter Angelos purchased the Baltimore Orioles with an investor group. At the time, the winning bankruptcy auction bid of $173 million was a shocker, but Angelos went deep into his newly minted deep pockets and wouldn’t be outbid. Today, the team and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network are valued at way over a billion dollars.
The 14 consecutive years of losing from 1998-2011 created many erroneous impressions of Angelos, the most negative that he was a cheap owner. The facts would argue the opposite. In 1996, the year that Angelos hired both Pat Gillick and Davey Johnson as his general manager and manager, the Orioles were No. 2 to the Yankees in payroll, $61,511,870 to $55,127,855.
Then in 1998, after signing Albert Belle, the O’s ascended to a brief stay as the team with Major League Baseball’s highest payroll at $74,170,921, with the Yankees second at $73,963,698.
What took place from 1998 through the Andy MacPhail era has been well-documented. Suffice it to say those next 14 seasons were a trip to hell and back for a franchise that had never before experienced such continued downtime. Payrolls during those 14 years were basically in the middle of the pack from 15-19, and only that high due to bringing in several aged vets to round out bad rosters.
In November 2011, when Dan Duquette became vice president of baseball operations, the Orioles had just drawn 1,755,461 — a far cry from Oriole Park at Camden Yards’ glory years of ’96 and ’97 when the club drew over 3.6 million both seasons.
The Duquette years (also the Showalter effect) brought about winning and the resultant increases in attendance. As the team won and the fans began to show, Angelos started to spend again.
In Duquette’s first season of 2012, the O’s payroll was at $81,428,999 and attendance peeked its nose above 2.1 million.
By 2014, when the Orioles won the American League East and got to within a American League Championship Series loss to Kansas City of going to the World Series, the O’s had gotten up to 2,464,473 and the payroll was up to a record $107,406,623.
The Orioles didn’t make it to the playoffs in 2015. But more important and germane to this column, the Orioles took an unexpected and large hit to their pocketbooks.
That April, with the death of Freddie Gray while in custody of the Baltimore Police Department, there was rioting and violence in downtown Baltimore. Things got so crazy that a protest march that turned ugly led to fans being attacked at outdoor cafes near the ballpark, resulting in Oriole Park being locked down during one night’s game.
That sudden perception of downtown Baltimore being dangerous led to a game played without fans being allowed in the stadium. While the O’s weren’t great in 2015, they continued to be relevant but yet saw attendance drop by 183,271 fans.
In 2016, the Orioles played entertaining baseball, making it to the playoffs but yet the club dropped down by another 108,858 fans. 2017 was not a good year on the field. That play and whatever else is in the air continued a negative downturn in Orioles attendance, as the club dropped another 143,920 fans, barely making it over the 2 million mark.
Whatever the overriding reasons, Orioles fans picked a bad time to stop coming to games. The owner committed to an all-in payroll in 2017 of over $163 million, as the team again was back in the top 10 of MLB payroll.
Many new streams of revenue for an owner of a baseball team exist today that didn’t exist back when Peter Angelos purchased the Orioles. We know the very real damage the existence of a team in Washington has caused the Orioles in raw attendance numbers.
The days of Oriole Park housing over 3 million in a single season seem to be gone for good. But to expect Angelos to continue to foot the bill without baseball in Baltimore again being a participatory sport with its fans probably hasn’t put the Orioles owner in a mindset to spend to the necessary level on player compensation for the Orioles to truly contend for the team’s first World Series appearance since 1983.
Top photo: Watch out for Batted Balls at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 2014. (Photo by Doug Kerr, Flickr)
Also see: Hello, Orioles Fans? Anyone Still Awake?
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