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Orioles' feathers ruffled over a little competition

February 08, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

We interrupt this column for a hypothetical news flash.

"Marvin's, one of the area's main grocery outlets, has announced it will not be adding any fresh produce to its stores.

"According to sources close to the situation speaking on an agreement of anonymity, the chain has decided against the investment because Food Lamb has also moved into the area. Marvin's decided against any restocking because it is unsure of what harm the presence of Food Lamb will do to its business, fearing financial losses."

Talk about not trusting the fruits of labor.

In the real world, this news event would never happen. Most towns accept having the diversity of two or three grocery chains - along with a few independent stores - along with numerous banks, fast-food burger places and department stores. It gives the consumer choices and the businesses all thrive in their own ways.

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It's not a novel concept. In fact, it seems to be common everywhere but in Baltimore.

Consumerism is coming to the Baltimore-Washington area in the form of the Washington Nationals. It will give consumers - i.e. fans - more options when it comes to professional baseball. They will have it all, the American League and the National League, at their fingertips.

That excitement was lost on the Orioles' front office, specifically owner Peter Angelos. Instead of stepping to the plate and taking cuts to make their business stronger, the Orioles are acting like they would rather take their ball and go home.

From the beginning, Angelos has claimed the relocation of the Montreal Expos 35 miles away in Washington will cause the Orioles to lose $40 million in business. Such a move would be "catastrophic" to the Orioles franchise and would take away the market from the American League team, he says.

So that might explain why there isn't a Sonic or Checkers in Hagerstown. I guess there aren't enough burger bucks to go around.

In this case, the produce analogy with the Orioles is probably like comparing apples and (black and) oranges.

What the Orioles seem to be afraid of is a little thing called competition. For more than three decades, the Orioles have been the only Major League baseball team in town. From Cumberland to the Pennsylvania line down through Virginia and North Carolina, the Orioles have laid claim to that vast area as their fan base.

Now there is a challenge. The Orioles have to prove they are a fan favorite instead of assuming they are.

Angelos agreed to make "this town big enough for the two of us" because of an impending agreement. MLB must guarantee the worth of the Orioles franchise and help develop a regional sports network, which will be partially owned by the Orioles to help soften any financial blow.

That's shrewd business on Angelos' part, but it hasn't done anything to improve the Orioles, a once proud and pacesetting franchise which is now coated in mediocrity. The Orioles' own actions are adding layers to that coating.

Baltimore has been practically dormant in the free-agent phase of baseball. The Orioles have made passing offers to some of the top players, but none that were taken seriously by any of the big names. If anything, those offers were only used as bargaining chips by those stars to get bigger deals elsewhere.

After every "one that got away," Orioles general manager Jim Beattie has blamed the Nationals' shadow for Baltimore's ongoing problems of restocking talent.

"The uncertainty of what's going on in D.C. has certainly hurt the way we can be out there and go at some of these things," Beattie said after missing out on Carlos Delgado. "But then you look at the prices (of salary demands), when they get out of a range that we feel is acceptable to us, then we move on."

Question: Why do the Nationals have any bearing on any of the Orioles' decisions? It's not like this is the first time there are two teams in close proximity of the same market. There is Los Angeles and Anaheim, Kansas City and St. Louis, Oakland and San Francisco. What about the White Sox and Cubs in Chicago and the Yankees and Mets in New York?

Each of these teams have their own loyal fans and have survived - and thrived - with the competition.

Angelos, himself, is testing the loyalty of his fans by tightening the purse strings, preventing any moves until baseball comes through with the Expos' prize package. Baltimore is using the situation as a crutch, almost staying inactive to prove a point.

That makes the Sammy Sosa trade smell even more like a move of desperation. The move puts a superstar face on the cover of the media guide and game program, but is only a mask to try to keep fans coming into the stadium while trying to sweep all of the team's problems under the prescription turf.

Baltimore's problems start with pitching, end with pitching and remain pitching.

Baltimore can blame the Washington Nationals all it wants, but until the Orioles decide to tend to their own crop and compete again, they will never return to being baseball's Top Banana.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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