Orioles owner Peter Angelos adamantly denied a foxsports.com report last night that said he is talking to a group that includes Cal Ripken about buying the club.
"There is no question that Cal and I have a great relationship," Angelos said. "He was a great player for the Orioles and I have an affection for him. But what's being reported, there is simply no substance to it. It has not happened. There have been no such discussions."
The report, using unnamed sources, said that Ripken and Angelos met before Thanksgiving and could meet again before Christmas. It said that the two are discussing a plan similar to what the Ravens did after agreed to sell the franchise to current owner Steve Bisciotti. Bisciotti bought a minority interest in the team in 2000 and then exercised an option to buy the rest of the team from Modell four years later.
"If it was true, there would be nothing wrong with that suggestion, but it simply is not true," Angelos said last night. "There is nothing wrong with talking to Cal about such a thing, but it didn't happen."
Angelos, 77, acknowledged that he and Ripken, who is expected to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, are friends and they do share dinner occasionally and stay in contact. Ripken owns the minor league Aberdeen IronBirds, an Orioles affiliate, with his brother Bill.
"That team could operate only with Oriole expressed approval and we gave that approval to Cal because of all that he has meant to the organization, both on and off the field," Angelos said. "Since he's retired, we've had plenty of contact."
John Maroon, a public relations representative who works with Ripken, didn't return calls seeking comment last night. In an interview with The Sun in September, Ripken said he would be interested in buying the club if it were up for sale.
"I think I could have value to a group, an ownership group," Ripken said in the September article. "I like Mr. Angelos, and I don't know what's going to happen to his club, but if it were for sale, it would be interesting to explore."
Ripken said he considers Angelos "brilliant" and "a friend." At the time, Angelos said he would enjoy having Ripken own the Orioles, if the time is right.
"If such a day came and he was the person playing that role, I would say you couldn't find a better guy," the owner said.
Angelos and a group of lesser investors bought the Orioles at auction in 1993 for $173 million, which was the highest price ever paid for a major league franchise at that time. He was hailed for bringing the team back under local ownership after the unpopular tenure of financier Eli Jacobs, and spent liberally to build teams that reached the American League Championship Series in 1996 and 1997.
The franchise went into decline after that and attendance has dropped steadily - from a high of 3.7 million to this year's all-time Camden Yards low of 2.15 million.
Still, the value of the team has never been higher, thanks in part to a steady escalation of franchise values in the major leagues over the past decade and also because of the compensation deal Angelos struck with Major League Baseball after the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington two years ago.
Forbes magazine estimated the value of the Orioles at $359 million in a study released after the 2005 season, but revenue from the Yes Network in New York has pushed the value of the Yankees near $1 billion and the New England Sports Network has helped the Red Sox reach a valuation of more than $600 million.
Angelos has never put the team up for bid, but he said in an interview soon after reaching the compensation deal that he might consider offers once the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network was up and running and the Orioles had returned to respectability. By any measure, neither of those bars has been cleared.
Angelos, who has been highly criticized during the Orioles' run of nine straight losing seasons, said in April that the team lost $15 million in 2005, but he also expressed confidence that the additional revenues generated by MASN would enable the team to spend more and hasten its return to contention.
The Orioles have been active in the free-agent market but have not been able to pull off a dynamic acquisition to mollify fans.