March 17, 2005

Take Me Out to the Ballgame - Beltway Baseball Rivalry & Ripken’s Side-Switching

Cal RipkenThe Washington Nationals are going to war with the Baltimore Orioles in more ways than one - on the playing field and at the box office, while Orioles hero Cal Ripkin heads for the enemy camp, in this piece from

    On Apr. 4, the Washington Nationals will officially play ball for the first time -- and the boos from Baltimore promise to be almost as loud as the cheers in the Nation's Capital. The Nats and the Orioles, which will compete 37 miles apart, have already skirmished over the marketing of tickets, their attempts to acquire star slugger Sammy Sosa, and the question of how Birds owner Peter G. Angelos will be compensated -- a calculation that could affect the location and financing of future franchises.

    For Orioles fans there's even the frightening possibility of a Baltimore icon, legendary shortstop Cal Ripken, going over to the dark side. This summer, Major League Baseball will select an ownership group out of at least seven partnerships vying for the franchise. Ripken, who declined to be interviewed, has said he might be interested in joining a Nationals group if he also had a hand in running the team.

    The competition between baseball's new neighbors will grow more intense after a Nats owner -- expected to pay up to $400 million -- is selected. For now, the Nationals are owned by the 29 MLB team owners, including Angelos. That places the current, MLB-controlled management in a tough spot, trying to avoid even the mildest public disagreements with the Orioles. For example, in the contest to trade for Sosa, baseball sources say the Nats were directed to back off by MLB when Angelos got in the game. Says Nats President Tony Tavares: "Every time we play them, I hope we kick their butts. But do I wake up wondering how I can hurt the Baltimore Orioles' business and enhance mine? Honestly, no."

    Selig already seems to be bending over backward for the Orioles. In September the commish's lawyer, Bob Dupuy, began talks with Angelos. Since then, according to baseball sources, MLB has offered several plans to indemnify the Orioles. Terms include guaranteeing them annual revenues of $130 million, just above their estimated revenue at present. Angelos would also be assured of a price tag around $360 million if he were to sell the team. That's a tidy profit over the $173 million that an Angelos-led group paid for the Orioles in 1993. For now, the sticking point in the talks appears to be control over the Nationals' TV broadcast rights.

We'll see if the Nationals can out-draw the Orioles - but they likely can't stop Ripken from heading for the enemy camp.

- Arik

Posted by Arik Johnson at March 17, 2005 12:16 AM