Here you go
Reds, Orioles among MLB teams facing an ownership crossroads
The thought surely crossed the minds of some fans when, in separate appearances last month, Cincinnati Reds president Phil Castellini and Baltimore Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos made public comments best described as cringeworthy.
Why can’t anyone get rid of these guys?
The short-term answer is that both Castellini and Angelos are the sons of owners who hold controlling interests in their respective clubs. Without a transfer of ownership, removing either would be extremely difficult if not impossible.
John Angelos said last month his family owns more than 70 percent of the Orioles. Phil Castellini’s father, Bob, owns less than 50 percent of the Reds, and his stake might be as low as 25 to 33 percent, according to sources with knowledge of the team’s ownership structure but not authorized to speak publicly. But Bob Castellini’s share is still the highest of the 19 investors listed in the Reds’ media guide, and the way the team’s ownership is structured, a coup is all but out of the question, sources said.
Reds’ media guide
A sale, then, offers the most realistic opportunity for change, not just in Cincinnati and Baltimore, but other cities with frustrated fan bases as well. While the Washington Nationals are the only current team known to be on the market, the Reds and Orioles are among a number of other franchises heading toward a crossroads, increasing talk of succession plans and potential new owners.
Bob Castellini, through a team spokesman, declined comment. The Orioles did not respond to a request for comment. The two clubs are among 10 in Major League Baseball — one-third of the league — with lead shareholders who are 75 or older.
Bob Castellini is 81. Peter Angelos is 93 and reportedly incapacitated. Under the MLB constitution, a spouse or lineal descendant who inherits a club is subject to 50 percent approval from the other owners. A prospective owner who is no relation — Steve Cohen when he bought for the Mets from the Wilpon family, for example — must meet a higher standard: 75 percent.
Approval for a lineal descendant can amount to a rubber stamp, as was the case in May 2017 when the 29 other clubs unanimously approved Chris Ilitch as the new controlling owner of the Tigers, three months after the death of his father, Mike. With the Orioles, a transfer of power already has occurred. John Angelos, as the Orioles’ MLB-designated “control person,” would not need to be approved again, sources said. Phil is in a more tenuous spot; his father remains the Reds’ control person.
Neither son, however, is assured of a future as a potential franchise steward. The recent public miscues of both further inflamed fans agitated by years of minimal spending and questionable management. And franchise sales could jeopardize their respective positions.
Castellini, speaking to a group of Reds supporters, said the team operated like a “nonprofit,” called baseball an “industry in crisis” and bemoaned the state of a sport that he claimed has an increased number of teams out of contention on Opening Day.
Angelos, making himself available to reporters in person for only the second time in four years, chastised The Athletic’s Dan Connolly for asking about his family’s future with the organization at a news conference he called on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when the team announced a charitable endeavor.
The Orioles, coming off their first winning season since 2016, are in a stronger competitive position than the Reds, who crashed to 62-100 last season after two straight winning campaigns. But as the Orioles come to the end of their rebuild, they still are not spending. Their biggest free-agent investment was a one-year, $10 million deal for right-hander Kyle Gibson, who last season had a 5.05 ERA. Their projected Opening Day payroll ranks 29th, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The Reds are 26th.
The best guess with the Orioles is that Peter Angelos would leave the team to his wife, Georgia, who then would need to decide whether to sell the club or allow her adult sons to run it — an arrangement that, if recent history is any indication, could be fraught with peril.
Georgia and John and the other Angelos son, Louis, dropped their lawsuits against each other this week. The Orioles, like the Nationals, probably cannot be sold until the MASN rights fees dispute between the clubs is resolved. But as Connolly wrote, the Angelos family could sell off part of the team and still hold the most ownership shares. A sale of about 20 percent would enable the family to retain more than a 50 percent majority.
Prospective owners might want a path to control under such an arrangement, similar to the one David Blitzer negotiated with the Cleveland Guardians. Or, they might prefer to purchase the club outright, and establish a clean break with the Angelos family — assuming the family was willing to yield.
Phil Castellini is less in control of his fate. Because his father is the Reds’ control person, Phil would need 50 percent approval from the other major-league owners even if he inherited the team. He also might need the approval of the Reds’ minority owners, depending upon what the team’s ownership agreement says. And there is no guarantee either group would support him.
Phil Castellini’s controversial comments to Reds supporters last month marked the second time in 10 months he made waves with public remarks. Last Opening Day, he ignited a separate firestorm when he was asked on the team’s flagship radio station why fans should remain patient. “Well,” Phil said, “where are you gonna go?”
Bob Castellini is not exactly beloved in Cincinnati. Surely he is aware his son is unpopular, too. Bob Castellini might fear Phil would get rejected by either the other Reds’ investors or the other major-league owners. He might even believe the team needs a fresh start. If either is the case, one possible solution for Bob would be to sell his controlling interest to one of the Reds’ minority owners, and step aside.
The Williams brothers, Joe and Tom, hold the second-largest stake in the club, are listed alongside Castellini in the Reds’ guide, and previously were minority owners of the Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals. They would be a natural choice, given their positions as lead executives of a real-estate company in Cincinnati, but not the only alternative. The Reds’ ownership group is full of accomplished local businessmen.
To gain control of the club, one of the minority owners would need to increase his stake to at least 15 percent, the minimum required for a control person according to the major-league constitution. There is virtually no threat of the Reds leaving Cincinnati, even if Castellini sells to out-of-town interests — the team’s lease at Great American Ballpark runs through 2037.
The Orioles’ future in Baltimore is less certain. The team recently declined a five-year extension of their lease at Camden Yards, issuing a joint news release with Maryland Gov. Wes Moore saying it intends to reach a “multi-decade, public-private partnership” with the state.
Both franchises remain valuable — Forbes in 2022 estimated the Orioles to be worth $1.375 billion, ranking 22nd in the majors, and the Reds $1.19 billion, ranking 26th. Both franchises, however, have experienced sharp declines in home attendance in recent years.
The Orioles drew 3 million or more in nine of the first 10 seasons at Camden Yards, the only exception being the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Their attendance last season was 1.37 million, up slightly from 1.31 million in 2019, their lowest total since 1978.
The Reds, who drew 2.48 million as recently as 2014, attracted 1.4 million last season, their lowest total since 1984 — and an even lower figure than they had in 2021, when teams dealt with capacity restrictions and reduced sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
No longer will the pandemic be an excuse for declining attendance throughout the league. The Orioles are on the upswing. The Reds, with their own group of emerging prospects, might not be far behind. Yet, for fans of both clubs, and a number of others, the prospect of new ownership is enticing.
The flip side of the question, “Why can’t anyone get rid of these guys?” is a more tantalizing notion: “How much better could our teams be if someone else was in charge?”