… And you’d thought that this Orioles offseason was shaping up to be a bore! So had I. Shame on us. It turns out that the whole time, dear old John Angelos was cooking us up a surprise. On Tuesday night, the news broke: the Orioles were being sold.
To many other fanbases, such news would come as a gut-punch. For Birdland, not so much. In these parts, it feels like the dark days are over. “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” a good friend texted me. There’s even a t-shirt about it.
Pending the other MLB owners’ approval of the deal, the new owner of the Baltimore Orioles will be private equity billionaire David Rubenstein (plus a group of investors including, among others, the Iron Man himself and former NBA star Grant Hill). New ownership couldn’t be arriving at a better time. Last season, the Orioles won 100 games and the AL East, despite ranking in the bottom-3 in payroll. They have one of, if not the, best farm systems in baseball. Plus Rubenstein & Co. can buy themselves a lot of good will just by not being anything like the old guys.
Obviously, it’s been rough sledding for the Orioles since 1993, when Peter Angelos, a hometown lawyer who made his millions in labor litigation, acquired the franchise for the tidy sum of $173 million. From the get-go, Angelos was known for being very “hands-on” (read: meddlesome). The Orioles cycled through managers and front offices. Controversial extensions were signed with favored players, largely at Angelos’s behest. Other, much sought-after extensions, weren’t.
Things got even weirder after Angelos’s health started to fade around 2012. That year, the Orioles owner made one of his last public appearances, congratulating his players in the dugout after an ALDS loss to the Yankees capped Baltimore’s first winning season in 14 years. Soon after, Peter’s wife, Georgia, would go on to take power of attorney over the team. And in November 2018, it was Peter’s elder son, John, who announced the hiring of new VP/GM Mike Elias.
This transition was, in retrospect, a shit show. In winter 2023, it came out that Angelos’s younger son Lou was suing his mother and brother for control of the team, allegedly because John was trying to move the team to Nashville, where he has a home. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, John sparred with the well-liked reporter Dan Connolly over finances, promising to open the team’s books (he never did).
In July, the surging Orioles committed an own-goal when they suspended beloved announcer Kevin Brown for 16 games, apparently because he’d mentioned on air how terrible the Orioles had been at the Tropicana in recent years, seasons when their performance vs. the Rays had been [consults the W-L records]… yes, terrible. The next month, John complained to The New York Times that the team’s lack of revenue made it impossible to spend on free agents. (Never mind that, under his dad, the team routinely figured in the top 10 teams in payroll). The team unconscionably dragged out the process of extending their lease at Camden Yards with the Maryland Stadium Authority.
Now, on top of everything, it turns out that the younger Angelos lied to Maryland officials, telling them he had no intention of selling the team, even while… well, you know.
So for Rubenstein & Co., just staying upright and not being a dysfunctional feuding family is a great start. What else do we need to know?
David Rubenstein is one of two private equity billionaires —Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group, plus Mike Arougheti of Ares Management Corporation — who have reportedly bought the Orioles for $1.725 billion. We can’t be sure when the deal will be approved by the other 29 MLB owners. The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Barker reported that MLB will need time for due diligence, so the approval won’t come at next week’s owners meetings. Whatever Rubenstein’s and Arougheti’s arrangement is, as soon as the deal goes through, Rubenstein will become the team’s control person, i.e. top decision maker.
Rubenstein’s local ties are one of the first things that’s endeared him to the fanbase already (in addition, as mentioned, to not being an Angelos). Born in Baltimore, he grew up in a family of modest means, his father a USPS employee. David graduated from Baltimore City College before going on to get degrees from Duke and the University of Chicago. He founded his private equity firm, the Carlyle Group, in 1987. It now manages a portfolio worth $382 billion in assets, which sounds pretty big to me. Rubenstein himself is worth an estimated $3.7 billion, according to Forbes.
Rubenstein has some quirky interests. A history buff who’s written four books, he hosts his own podcast and a TV show, History with David Rubenstein, on PBS, in addition to two other shows on Bloomberg Television. (Despite this, he’s never seen Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure. For shame.) He once purchased a copy of the Magna Carta for $21 million to add to a collection of artifacts worth an estimated $50 million. He served as chairman of the board of the Kennedy Center for almost 14 years, lent money to help fix the Washington Monument, and has helped fund cancer research and panda reproduction. He’s never tasted coffee or alcohol.
What do we know about Rubenstein’s plans for the Orioles? His interest in DC/MD sports is pretty sustained; he’d been linked before to the Washington Capitals and the Nationals, both. And in 2018, he told then-governor Larry Hogan, “If [the Orioles] are for sale, I’ll consider it.” He’s apparently not a micro-manager type. A friend who’s known Rubenstein for 50 years told the Sun, “He’ll have a strategy, which is one of his strong points. He’ll be deeply engaged. But I wouldn’t expect to see him showing up with the lineup cards.”
If the deal goes through, the Angelos family will continue to hold onto the team until Peter passes away, but once it’s approved, Rubenstein, 74, will become the “control person” to replace John Angelos in day-to-day decision-making. Still TBD is what will happen to MASN (the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), of which the Orioles are the majority owner. Will Rubenstein also become the control person for the network, and if so, will he be looking to do anything different about it? It’s a troubled time for regional sports networks, so we should expect change of some kind.
There’s a lot of unknowns, and Rubenstein himself hasn’t emerged to give us a sense of his strategy or vision for the team beyond a generic (but still welcome) goal of winning the World Series. But it’s hard not to feel good about this change of ownership. Rubenstein is one of the wealthiest people in the world. The pockets to spend on this team are deeper than they have been. He’s a sports lover. He’s from Baltimore. And, best of all, he doesn’t have to spend lavishly to take this team to a place of excellence.