Oakland Athletics v Baltimore Orioles

A few weeks ago, I posed a simple question: Why would anybody want to work for Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos? The only possible answer is he has money, and he is one of 30 people in the entire world willing to pay top dollar for major league baseball talent. And so people, like former Rockies and Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin, still want to work for Peter Angelos.

Unfortunately for Colvin, the Orioles don’t want him any more. The Orioles reportedly reached a major league deal for Colvin roughly two weeks ago, and an official announcement was expected to take place last week. But no announcement came, and on Wednesday ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported the Orioles claimed there was an issue with Colvin’s physical.

Because of course there was. Colvin, according to one of Crasnick’s sources, has spent the offseason “working out 5 days a week in Arizona and hasn’t had any problems,” but the Orioles were apparently worried about a back injury that hampered Colvin late last season. The injury was bad enough for the Orioles to revoke their offer of a major league deal, but the club was still happy to offer a minor league — non-guaranteed — deal.

Colvin, of course, is the second player to see a deal revoked following issues with a Baltimore physical this offseason. Grant Balfour had a two-year, $15 million deal fall through in December despite physicians from multiple clubs stating they didn’t see any problems with Balfour’s arm — that is, aside from normal wear and tear. The wear and tear issue is important, as it suggests a team can likely find some issue in any player they can use to kill a deal just due to the rigors of being a professional athlete. Colvin knows all about those rigors — he has undergone Tommy John surgery in his career and also took a broken bat to the lung in one of the scariest baseball injuries of all time:

We don’t know yet if there was a legitimate reason for the Orioles to back off the deal with Colvin or if it was just another instance of Peter Angelos doing what Peter Angelos does. Current Braves GM and former Orioles front office man Frank Wren told the New York Times in 2006, “That’s how Peter plays general manager. He uses medical reasons to kill or change a deal if he doesn’t like it.”

My post on the Orioles’ withdrawal from the Balfour deal covers multiple situations showcasing Angelos’s anti-player ways, but I wanted to throw a couple more logs on the fire this week on top of the Colvin news.

This Saturday, former Orioles pitcher Scott Erickson was in Minneapolis for a fan event with TwinsDaily.com. Although the focus was on Erickson’s time with the Twins (he made the All-Star team and finished second in Cy Young Award voting for the 1991 World Series champion Twins), Angelos came up in a discussion of the managers Erickson played for throughout his career:

ERICKSON: “Davey Johnson was a great manager with ther Orioles. I think he was the only manager of the year to get fired for being manager of the year, that was the way it was with the Orioles. We won the first game of the season, were in first place every day the whole year long, and he got fired.”

HOST: “That’s Angelos, right?”

ERICKSON: “That is. And it’s funny, because Davey was the last one to the field every day. We had a veteran team. He’d fill out the lineup the night before, go golfing all day, and show up for batting practice. That’s like what Torre did in New York. You don’t have to do a whole lot when you’ve got teams like that.”

You can listen here; the discussion with Erickson starts around the 35 minute mark, with the exchange in question taking place at 39:00.

It was striking, in person, how Erickson didn’t skip a beat in throwing the blame for Johnson’s firing — widely considered one of the most ridiculous manager firings in recent baseball history — straight on Angelos.

Additionally, Angelos attempted to get out from under a $10.1 million obligation to pitcher Sidney Ponson after Ponson was charged with DUI twice in 2005. According to the Orioles, Ponson violated a contract clause that supposedly allowed teams to terminate a contract if a player should “fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and sportsmanship.”

It took nearly four years for the grievance to be settled , with the Orioles eventually agreeing to pay Ponson a confidential amount. In a similar case, the Rockies settled to pay Denny Neagle $16 million of a $19.5 million guarantee after the club attempted the same legal ploy (Neagle was cut after he was charged for soliciting a sex act in Colorado.) Ponson likely received a similar proportion.

Although Ponson was by all acounts something of a nasty person, and his DUI charges are inexcusable, Angelos’s act was clearly a cynical one, trying to get out from under a terrible on-field contract. Ponson had a 6.21 ERA in 23 starts in 2005, and the previous year he allowed the most hits (265) and earned runs (127) of all American League pitchers. The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck tried to paint it as a moral stand — “Angelos isn’t built that way,” Schmuck said, referring to other teams who have declined to void contracts in similar situations in the past.

The veil here is thin. This is buyer’s remorse. It is a cynical attempt to circumvent the guaranteed contract, and such actions send a message not just to Ponson but to players across the league: I will pay you, but I do so reluctantly, and if I can get the money back, I will try my hardest to do so.

I don’t know if these transgressions — this constant antagonizing of his own players, his own managers and free agents from across the league — is related to Colvin’s physical. There hasn’t been any news since Crasnick’s first report. And in the absence of any new reports, Peter Angelos makes it exceptionally easy to be cynical