Raising the bar won’t take much, but new Orioles ownership easy to celebrate

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As the Ravens’ Super Bowl dreams crumbled Sunday, a few observers noted that now would be a good time for the Orioles to acquire that coveted starting pitcher for the 2024 season. 

But the news that surfaced Tuesday evening will have a far greater impact on the club’s future as sports business reporter John Ourand of Puck first reported the agreement that the family of Peter Angelos would sell the control stake of the Orioles to a group led by Baltimore native David Rubenstein for $1.725 billion. You’re forgiven if some skepticism remains — we’re still talking about chairman John Angelos — until all details are revealed, the ink is dry, and the transaction is officially approved by Major League Baseball, but this isn’t one of those rumors or pipe dreams over the years about the Orioles being rescued. 

This is real with Rubenstein set to become the club’s control person.

Without rehashing too many details of the last three decades, the kindest way to describe the Angelos family’s legacy was an impeccable ability to lower expectations — on and off the field. 

How else do you sugarcoat an on-field product consisting of just nine winning seasons, six playoff berths in the expanding wild-card era, and not a single World Series appearance over 30 seasons? In the 40 years prior to Peter Angelos purchasing his majority stake in the fall of 1993, the Orioles had been one of the better franchises in baseball with three World Series championships, six AL pennants, and 27 winning seasons. 

Off the field, there were countless examples of alienating employees, former players, local businesses, and even paying customers. There’s probably a decent chance you have a story of your own. 

No, the Angelos era wasn’t all bad, but there wasn’t nearly enough good to be remembered as anything resembling a trusted steward of a once-proud franchise. Period. 

Ironically, the pending sale comes at a time when the Orioles are coming off their first 100-win season since 1980. The dishonesty and missteps aside, John Angelos deserves credit for hiring general manager Mike Elias in 2018 to rebuild baseball operations from the ground up, something father Peter never had the patience or willingness to endure with multiple baseball executives. Of course, cynics would remind that the only guarantee stemming from a multiyear teardown that includes tanking for higher draft picks, focusing on player development, and cutting major league payroll is a healthy rebuilding of ownership’s wallet. 

Still, in five years, the Orioles went from being baseball’s laughingstock to finishing with the AL’s best record, sporting the consensus best farm system in baseball, and recently opening an academy in the Dominican Republic to continue beefing up their international presence. The defending AL East champion is a contender and should remain one for years to come. 

But it’s obvious that Elias and the current club have reached an inflection point. Some would even argue that they’ve been there for some time now. 

With one of the best young cores in baseball, Baltimore had the second-lowest payroll in the majors last season and is currently projected to have the third lowest in 2024, an increase that’s mostly the product of raises for players eligible for arbitration. As the calendar turns to February, the only significant addition made by the Orioles this winter has been 35-year-old closer Craig Kimbrel, a one-year, $13 million signing made to fill the void of injured All-Star closer Felix Bautista. 

While it’s true that most of a 101-61 club from last year will be returning, it’s past time for ownership to step up to augment the World Series chances of the current roster, and there were no signs of John Angelos being serious about doing so. 

Enter Rubenstein and the new investor group. 

Truthfully, we have no clue how this is going to work out as Peter Angelos was received as a civic hero for purchasing the Orioles from disinterested New Yorker Eli Jacobs 31 years ago. And even with robust payrolls in those early years, it didn’t take long for the honeymoon to deteriorate into dubious decisions and a toxic perception for a quarter-century.  

There’s much work to do on the business side, ranging from renovating Oriole Park at Camden Yards and attracting new business partnerships to boosting tickets sales and finding the sweet spot for local TV revenue in an ever-changing consumer world. 

But with questions about the stadium lease in the rearview mirror, Rubenstein realistically couldn’t be any worse than what Orioles fans have endured for most of the last three decades. The 74-year-old private equity billionaire has quite an opportunity to become a baseball hero in his hometown, especially with the Orioles having such a promising present and future on the diamond. 

No one expects a payroll rivaling the Dodgers, Yankees, and Mets or even Philadelphia and Atlanta, but there’s no reason the Orioles can’t aspire to be more like the St. Louis Cardinals, a franchise that’s consistently relied on player development and a payroll ranking in the top half to top third of baseball while playing in a market that isn’t drastically larger than Baltimore. Since the turn of the century, the Cardinals have won two World Series and four NL pennants while appearing in the postseason 16 times. 

It’s time to raise the bar around here. 

“I am grateful to the Angelos family for the opportunity to join the team I have been a fan of my entire life,” Rubenstein said in a statement on Wednesday. “I look forward to working with all the Orioles owners, players, and staff to build upon the incredible success the team has achieved in recent seasons. Our collective goal will be to bring a World Series trophy back to the City of Baltimore. To the fans I say: we do it for you and can’t do it without you. Thank you for your support.

“Importantly, the impact of the Orioles extends far beyond the baseball diamond. The opportunity for the team to catalyze development around Camden Yards and in downtown Baltimore will provide generations of fans with lifelong memories and create additional economic opportunities for our community.”

Expectations have been so low for so long, but this all sounds so refreshing. 

It’s more than enough reason for celebration. 

Now, about that starting pitcher?

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