This past weekend the faint rumors about the Orioles possibly leaving Baltimore at some point picked up some new steam.
Not much, mind you…but enough to make this an issue worth examining. And enough to wonder why some of our best local journalists haven’t yet done more to shine more light on the subject.
So before we get hysterical about this – or before we dismiss it out-of-hand – let’s take a moment to step back and examine what we know and what we don’t know about this situation.
We know that there have been “whispers” since last year about the possibility of an Orioles move, mainly in connection with the team’s dispute over television rights fees its network, MASN, must pay to the Washington Nationals. Peter Schmuck of the Sun wrote about this in June of last year – and went so far as to conclude that if the O’s were unsuccessful in court in the MASN dispute that “all bets are off.” Sheryl Ring of Fangraphs did a deep dive on the MASN dispute in April of this year that also mentioned a potential move, saying, “whispers have begun that Angelos would rather move the team than lose the fight.”
We don’t know if there really is a $3 billion bid from a prospective owner who wishes to move the team to Las Vegas. That’s merely part of the rumor that was broadcast Saturday on the team’s flagship radio station, 105.7 The Fan, during the Bruce Cunningham Show. A guest on Cunningham’s show, in discussing the MASN case, mentioned a rumor about a potential $3 billion bid from a prospective owner to buy the Orioles and move the team to Las Vegas. This rumor was quickly refuted by the station’s program director on Twitter as a “non-credible rumor.” Cunningham, for his part, followed up with a tweet saying that the guest “has been my lawyer for many years…I do not know where he got the information, but he’s never lied to me before.” So clearly there’s nothing concrete here – just a rumor that was mentioned during a radio show. Until we have a name or some more details…we don’t know if this offer actually exists in any form.
We know, however, that if you had to line up a set of circumstances to cause Orioles fans to worry, you really couldn’t do better than what we have now. We have declining attendance in the midst of a years-long rebuild…an ownership in transition from Peter Angelos to his sons John and Louis…a stadium lease expiring after the 2021 season…and a reported ruling in the MASN-Nationals dispute that could have a negative impact on the team’s financial future. All we’re missing is an airport press conference from the owner denying a potential move standing next to a clearly uncomfortable mayor.
Speaking of which…we don’t know who would be negotiating on behalf of the City of Baltimore or the State of Maryland. The current mayor of Baltimore ascended to the job less than a week ago and claims not to be interested in the gig full time after the 2020 election. The governor of Maryland seems at this point to be more focused on a possible Presidential bid than on dealing with a lease agreement for a baseball team. And both the mayor and the governor are somewhat preoccupied with the potential for another major sports franchise — the Preakness — leaving town in the near future.
We know that losing the Orioles — no matter what anyone says — is a distinct possibility. The idea that “this can never happen here” or “it’s too far-fetched” should have been eliminated in 1984 when the Colts left town. And if wasn’t eliminated then, the Cleveland Browns shocking everyone by moving to Baltimore should have proven that this sort of thing can happen anywhere – and at any time.
We don’t know what the Orioles have to say about this. And that’s what is troubling. What would the possible reasons be for the Orioles NOT to nip this story in the bud with a strong denial? I can think of three: (1) They don’t think it’s a serious story…or that it’s so ridiculous it isn’t worthy of a denial. If that’s the case, the Angelos family should certainly know better. (2) They are hoping to use the whispers as potential leverage to negotiate a better deal on a new lease at Camden Yards. That would be a bit ruthless on the part of the team, but certainly not out of character for a pro sports franchise. (3) There’s some smoke behind this fire and the team hopes by remaining silent the whispers will subside and they can continue taking offers — or negotiating— in relative quiet.
We know that these whispers have not yet been fully investigated by our local media (though we don’t know why that’s the case.) But we do know just how powerful the Sunpapers can be — see Pugh, Catherine — when it comes to an issue important to the city of Baltimore. Fair or not, Baltimore has a reputation in the sports world as having a media contingent that is easy to deal with compared to larger cities. But what’s stopping our local television reporters from asking John and Louis Angelos a few tough questions? What’s stopping the Sun from doing the legwork to see if a Vegas offer actually exists?
There’s no question that at this point, we still have a lot more questions than answers about this situation. But given the painful scars that remain in Baltimore some 35 years after losing the Colts to Indianapolis…it’s within reason for Orioles fans to be concerned. And at this point a strong denial – or some concrete action to reassure fans – would go a long way toward helping fans feel better about what’s happening during this transition in ownership.