BALTIMORE, MD – What the Peter G. Angelos name means in Baltimore depends on whom you ask.
Angelos, who turns 80 on Saturday, is a legal giant ― a civic white knight who became the *#8220;king of asbestos*#8221; in the 1980s, securing $1 billion in settlements for tens of thousands of union workers he has represented for nearly 50 years and identified with his entire life.
He*#8217;s also the businessman who some say is suffocating the very baseball team he set out to restore as a source of pride for his adopted city.
A multimillionaire, Angelos could be living in the lap of luxury and enjoying retirement. Instead, the son of Greek immigrants spends six days a week in the office and is just as hands-on with his business ventures as he was decades ago.
His friends say his generosity knows no bounds and his loyalty is fierce. Orioles fans have slung mud at his name, pointing to more than a decade of losing seasons.
And what does that all mean to Angelos?
*#8220;What*#8217;s important is what people think of you *#8230; overall ― not just from the standpoint as a baseball owner,*#8221; he said, during a two-hour interview with The Daily Record this week at his Charles Center office. *#8220;You just hope that, overall, people think of you in the positive as opposed to those areas where you didn*#8217;t quite meet the test.*#8221;
One thing that*#8217;s always been clear is that Angelos is a fighter. Born in Pittsburgh on July 4, 1929, Angelos went to five schools in five years as his steelworker father shuffled through jobs during the Great Depression. Although he remembers little from those days, Angelos recalled to The Evening Sun in 1967 the neighborhoods were *#8220;very poor and very tough*#8221; and required a quick pair of fists.
His family moved to Baltimore when he was 11, and Angelos attended public school, then spent two years in the Army after World War II. He returned to Baltimore to work for his father in the restaurant business and began attending the University of Baltimore School of Law (then Mount Vernon Law School).
In 1959, two years before he graduated as class valedictorian, he ran for City Council and won ― becoming the youngest council member at the time. Not one to make a quiet entrance, Angelos became known on the council for his quick tongue (The Sun then called him *#8220;brash and sometimes almost ruthless*#8221;) and played a key role in the passage of zoning, tax and civil rights bills.
In 1963, Angelos lost the race for council president to his friend Tommy D*#8217;Alesandro Jr. He lost to D*#8217;Alesandro again in 1967 in the mayoral election.
Today, Angelos is a player in politics through his resources. He remains staunchly loyal to the Democratic Party and he and his wife Georgia gave more than $260,000 to Democrats nationally during the 2007-2008 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But his loyalty to and friendship with former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. also placed him on the opposite side of the Martin O*#8217;Malley campaign in 2006, when the Baltimore mayor defeated Ehrlich to become governor. Angelos, his wife and sons John and Louis each donated the maximum allowed ($4,000) to Ehrlich during that campaign. O*#8217;Malley, who as mayor had supported the Montreal Expos*#8217; move to Washington, received $100 from John Angelos that year, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Angelos turned his attention to the law practice he started in 1961 when his political career fizzled. He was involved in medical malpractice and police firing cases that made him a prominent name in legal circles. It was the asbestos litigation starting in the mid-1970s and continuing to this day, however, that made him a national legal figure with a staff of more than 80 lawyers.
The money from the asbestos settlements also allowed him to put together an investment group that purchased the Orioles at a 1993 auction for a then-record $173 million after the former owner, Eli S. Jacobs, was forced into bankruptcy.
Angelos represented Maryland five years later in its part of the nationwide settlement with tobacco manufacturers. He originally sought the 25 percent of the $4 billion payout his firm was entitled to under terms of its contract with the state. But state leaders refused to pay what they considered to be an exorbitant fee, starting a four-year legal battle that ended with a $150 million fee for the firm.
For all his successes in the legal world, Angelos*#8217; triumphs as a businessman and as owner of the Orioles have been mixed.
A major force in downtown development, Angelos owns four office buildings along Charles Street, including One Charles Center, the 23-story tower his law firm is headquartered in.
Passionate about Maryland*#8217;s tradition of horse racing, he bought Ross Valley Farm in 1998 and tried to buy the struggling Rosecroft Raceway harness racing track in Fort Washington in 2004. This spring he offered his support to the state and met with legislators about keeping Pimlico Race Course (and the Preakness Stakes) under the management of a local operator.
However, as a baseball owner, he is on his eighth manager and seventh general manager in 16 years, has been called a meddler by the media and fans, and has watched over 11 consecutive losing seasons while annual attendance at Camden Yards has gone from a high of 3.7 million in 1997 to 1.9 million last year.
*#8220;It*#8217;s so much easier to make him a pinata,*#8221; said Tom Minkin, who has worked with Angelos for more than 40 years. *#8220;[But] no one wants to be thought of as some sort of villain.*#8221;
Angelos has bristled at past comparisons to New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner because of a shared reputation for being too involved in their teams and for drastic off-season moves. Yet Steinbrenner, who was also born on July 4, but a year later, has been hailed as one of the most successful ― albeit reviled ― owners in baseball and handed over operation of the team to his sons before the 2008 season.
But Angelos*#8217; story isn*#8217;t over yet, as he shows no signs of slowing down in either of his worlds. In fact, the first reaction of many when told Angelos is about to turn 80 was one of disbelief. Angelos, in an interview, smiled when told of the response.
*#8220;I guess I should be pleased,*#8221; he said. *#8220;I don*#8217;t feel it at all.*#8221;
This article by Liz Farmer appeared in The Daily Record.