MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

In time of unrest, Angelos speaks from the heart

In time of unrest, Angelos speaks from the heart

They couldn't play baseball in Baltimore at a time like this. Not with sections of a great American city so shaken.

This is where real life intrudes on the games we love, and Baltimore could use a baseball game right about now, and then some.

However, at this point -- and for the foreseeable future -- Baltimore must focus its manpower and resources on restoring calm.

That alone looks daunting right now.

What began as protests over the death of an unarmed black man in custody, escalated into looting and violence.

Even as the family of the victim, Freddie Gray, pleaded for peace, dozens of clashes took place.

With the chaos a few miles away from Camden Yards, the Orioles and White Sox postponed their game Monday night.

Suddenly, in Baltimore, similar scenes that played out in Ferguson, Mo., and New York became a terrifying reality.

Tensions have increased steadily since Gray, 25, died of a spinal injury apparently suffered after his arrest on April 12. Six Baltimore police officers have been suspended, pending an investigation.

When protesters noisily filled the streets around Camden Yards before and during a Red Sox-Orioles game on Saturday, O's executive vice president John Angelos unleashed a flood of perspective via Twitter.

Angelos' words were passionate, his anger palpable. One awful moment for his city was symbolic of something else, and by the time he was done, he'd referenced Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the Bill of Rights and "innocent working families."

Sports executives simply do not speak the way Angelos did. They just don't. They see it as too risky, too polarizing. They play it down the middle, saying something without really saying anything.

And so this was the exception. Baseball has long prided itself on being a social institution, on standing for the right thing and attempting to do the right thing. Against this backdrop, Angelos spoke.

When a Baltimore sportscaster used Twitter to attempt to draw a line between protesters and those with criminal intent, Angelos responded, quickly and unfiltered.

Angelos said, protests aside, that the death of Gray was symbolic of a different kind of injustice, that of jobs being shipped abroad, the loss of civil rights protections and the hardships inflicted on those who are voiceless.

He finished with:

We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don't have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

Angelos is a son of Baltimore, a lifelong resident who appreciates its beauty and admires its grit and tenacity. He loves it deeply and cares about it profoundly. And so this latest incident was personal.

Baltimore is unique in countless ways, but it begins with an attitude. There's pride among Baltimore's citizens in how it rose from the crime and near despair of the 1960s into a thriving, beautiful city of picturesque neighborhoods, libraries, museums and restaurants.

Perhaps it's because Baltimore is tucked on the I-95 corridor between Washington and Philadelphia that it sometimes gets overlooked. Maybe that contributes to the warmth locals feel for it.

Baltimore is not perfect. It has crime and poverty and blight, just like every other major American city. That fight is ongoing. Yet Baltimore has come so far in three decades, especially around its beautiful Inner Harbor and in the renaissance that spread into the adjoining neighborhoods. That part of Baltimore is bustling with activity, with people of all ages dining and shopping and working.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which opened in 1992, played a huge role in the rebirth of Baltimore in giving life to an area of the city that had little.

Here's the other thing that's important to know about Baltimore. Sports matters. Always has. It's also personal. Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson weren't just stars. They arrived in Baltimore to begin their careers and made it their homes. They were both everymen, living and shopping and dining alongside their fans.

Cal Ripken Jr. was like that, too. His dad was an Orioles legend, one of the architects of what became known as "the Oriole way." Ripken grew up dreaming of playing for his hometown team, and when he made history by playing in his 2,131st consecutive game, Baltimore saw him as its own.

When Buck Showalter became the O's manager in 2010, he wanted to be sure his players understood why it was special to be part of the franchise. So he lined the clubhouse hallways with the franchise's important figures, from Earl Weaver and Frank Robinson to Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray.

When statues of the five Oriole Hall of Famers were unveiled at Camden Yards during the 2011 season, Showalter encouraged his players to attend and to perhaps get a better understanding of both the city and team.

And so Gray's death was troubling to Angelos on more than one level. He used Twitter to caution that the investigation was ongoing. Still, whatever it unearths won't change the things Angelos said on Saturday.

His father, Peter Angelos, bought the Orioles in 1993. Peter is the son of Greek immigrants and a self-made man in every way imaginable. He was raised in the Highlandtown area of East Baltimore, a gritty working-class area.

Peter graduated from Patterson Park High School and was valdectorian of his class at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He has practiced law in Baltimore for 44 years and prides himself on speaking for those unable to speak for themselves.

Peter has taken on asbestos manufacturers, tobacco companies and pharmaceuticals. He's also a former member of the Baltimore City Council and has been involved in dozens of development projects in the city.

Once during a conversation with a reporter, Peter began talking about the beauty of the American judicial system and its power to right wrongs. As he spoke, tears welled in his eyes.

John Angelos, also a law school grad, understands these same emotions and felt them bubble to the surface on Saturday night. He knows that we'll return to playing baseball at some point soon.

He believes this isn't that time. Rather, it's a moment to speak up for the right thing. In that way at least, he's very much his father's son.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.