Orioles and Nationals at the gate, April review

Peter Angelos is going to make out like a bandit. That’s going to be my prediction, now that we’re one month into the season. The slimy lawyer bitched and moaned (and probably cried) that his franchise, the Baltimore Orioles, would be so damaged by the presence of a team in Washington that he held up the move of the Montreal Expos for two years, then got a sweetheart deal out of the cable network that will show both Nationals and Orioles games. However, as my friends in Washington tell me, when the Nationals and Orioles both play at the same time, guess which one is put on the air? In a small bit of just retribution, Angelos is being sued by Comcast, which has the rights to Orioles games on cable through 2006.

After Angelos claimed that “there are no real baseball fans in D.C.,” he tried to avoid having a Washington team presumably continue to take away from his own team’s declining attendance figures. What he seemed to forget, though, is that after the novelty of a gorgeous ballpark wears off, the sure-fire way to get people to come to your games is to put together an exciting, winning team.

So here we are now at the end of April, a day into May. Baltimore stands atop the AL East, the toughest division in baseball in which to crack the top two (not to be confused with the toughest division in baseball). They have a four-game lead as of this morning — on Boston and Toronto, not even the Yankees, who have just finished the second-worst April since George Steinbrenner bought the team. Only the 1984 club, which was chasing the juggernaut Tigers, was more games out of first (11 1/2) than these aging pinstripers (7 1/2). The Orioles’ 16 wins in April equaled the franchise record for the month. The previous two times it happened, Baltimore went to the World Series (1969) and won the AL East after going wire-to-wire (1997). They might have gone to the Series that year too, had Jeffrey Maier read the rules on the back of his ticket about not interfering with balls in play.

So now, Baltimore and Washington have each played 13 games at home, including nine times when both clubs were at home. The two clubs rank 11th and 15th overall in MLB in attendance per game:

11. Baltimore: 418,444 total, 32,188 per game
15. Washington 398,741 total, 30,672 per game

That’s right, it’s the sad-sack Orioles, the team we were all supposed to feel sorry for, that’s leading the Beltway battle by nearly 2,000 fans per game. Not only that, they’ve sold 66.8 percent of all tickets, while Washington’s managed only 54.1, according to ESPN’s attendance rankings.

Here are the last five head-to-head gates, since I wasn’t paying attention last week…

Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay: 30,784
Washington vs. the Mets: 27,333

Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay: 19,920
Washington vs. the Mets: 40,913

Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay: 24,910
Washington vs. the Mets: 30,627

April 21:
Baltimore vs. Boston: 40,419
Washington vs. Atlanta: 30,728

April 20:
Baltimore vs. Boston: 36,478
Washington vs. Atlanta: 27,374

If the Orioles can keep up their run of contention in the AL East, they should win this competition easily, though unfortunately we won’t have the pleasure of seeing Peter Angelos eat his words. It’s too bad Angelos and, say, mayor Anthony Williams of D.C. couldn’t put a friendly wager on this attendance battle, the way mayors or governors do when their teams meet in the World Series or Super Bowl. It wouldn’t have been feasible because each man, in effect, would’ve had to root against his team’s attendance with regard to the other team’s in order to win (Angelos saying Washington would hurt his team’s attendance, Mayor Williams saying Washington’s its own city and wouldn’t draw from the Orioles’ fan base). But it would’ve been nice to see Angelos, in a pennant race in September, cursing his sellouts to save face.

But maybe he wouldn’t have to worry about that, since lawyers rarely show their true reptilian skin.

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