THE ASBESTOS GOSPEL OF BASEBALL'S ST. PETER
Sep 18, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 01 • By ERIC FELTEN
When the baseball players strike threatened to scuttle two seasons" wo!th of ball, the whole sordid battle between petulant millionaire infielders and petulant millionaire owners produced only one hero in the public consCiousness -- Peter Angelos, the owner of the BaltimorOrioles, the owner who refused to field a team of replacement players. "An Owner Who Won't Play Ball With the Other Boys" was the Newsweek headline. U.S. News & World Report waxed a bit more messianic: "Everyone wants to hear [Angelos's] answers to basebali's problems, as if the words of one honorable, outspoken man might wipe out decades of avarice and mismanagement."
Missing from these valentines, however, was any description of the shady political moves that facilitated Angelos's noble posture. Peter Angelos may have played hardball with the other owners, but he went to the plate with a corked bat.
Angelos is a profile-writer's dream, the workingclass kid made good, the son of Greek immigrants who never forgot his Baltimore roots. As a young man, he worked at the steel mill for a dollar an hour, and pulled the tap at his father's tavern. A local boy, he graduated from the University of Baltimore's law school in 1960. After losing a bid to become ma'or some seven years later, Angelos turned his copious energies to the law, building a practice that made him very, very rich.
Eric Fdten is an editorial writer for theasashigton Times.
The law offce of Peter Angelos was a modest affair to begin with; his main client was the local steelworkers union. It wasn't the sort of legal work that makes one wealthy; he handled mostly a mundane stream of workman's compensation.
Those cases alone were not where the money was, and so Angelos built a solid personal injury practice as well, litigating claims of medical malpractice and negligence, auto accident injuries and the like. By the 1980s, according to the IVashington Post, Angelos was taking home more than $ 1 million a year -- well short of the staggering riches needed to buy a major league baseball franchise. That wealth was not far off, however, thanks to a fortuitous convergence of Angelos's main lines of business. He combined his labor and personal injury experience to mine one of the richest shafts ever prospected by the plaintiff's bar: asbestos.
Angelos likes to claim that his union friends came to him and begged that he take on the asbestos companies. "I didn't want to do asbestos litigation because I knew it would be all onsuming," Angelos told the IVashington Post. " I just got sent the cases." True enough, Angelos was sent an abundance of clients. But it was neither a surprise nor an imposition: Angelos arranged for local unions to send their members through his asbestos litigation mill.
"Most of the asbestos lawyers are deeply associated with the unions," says Albert Parnell, who gives seminars for the Defense Research Institute on how to fight asbestos cases. "If you're not a union guy, you have to advertise." Angelos was able to solicit clients at union meetings and soon had offcials of the locals sending their members to his expanding number of law offices -- offces located next door to union halls. Adjacent to those offces were clinics Called Medical Resources Management, shops that catered almost exclu- sively to the pre-trial needs of Angelos's potential clients. According to one lawyer involved in the Baltimore asbestos cases, the exams performed by the doctors at MRM were largely paid for under union health plans. Indeed, the lawyer says that to receive the free examination, Baltimore union members signed forms authorizing the locals" business offces to hand their cases over to the unions" attorney -- Angelos.
But Angelos didn't just wait for Clients to show up at his door. A mobile medical van plastered with the MRM logo went on fishing expeditions at union halls outside of Baltimore, from Cumberland, Md., to Pennsylvania. Medical personnel were always accompanied by a lawyer from the law offces of Peter Angelos.