ANNAPOLIS – It took the most rancorous strike in baseball history, but the Baltimore Orioles – and their fans in the Statehouse – are drawing inspiration from to one of their greatest rivals: the world-champion Toronto Blue Jays.
The House Commerce and Government Matters Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill to bar teams with more than 25 percent replacement players from playing in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
“I’m a longtime Orioles fan and a season ticket holder,” said Del. Gerald J. Curran, D-Baltimore, the committee chairman and one of the bill’s sponsors. “The world is now realizing what a fraud scab baseball is.”
Curran says the legislation “follows Toronto’s lead,” referring to Ontario’s law against all replacement workers – including professional athletes.
A second bill aimed at baseball’s six-month strike would make it illegal to advertise replacement teams as “Major League” ballclubs.
The Blue Jays owners plan to avoid Ontario law by fielding a replacement team in the United States. But Maryland lawmakers want to move boldly to protect the Orioles.
The Senate Finance Committee sent companion bills to the full Senate Tuesday, where Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, predicted both would pass later this week.
But some lawmakers are bucking popular sentiment, saying the baseball strike does not belong in the General Assembly.
“The underlying issue has nothing to do with whether there should be replacement players,” said Del. John S. Morgan, D- Howard. “The issue is whether the state should intervene in this case.”
Others challenge the legislation’s motive, which lawmakers admit is to strengthen renegade Orioles owner Peter Angelos’ position in a legal battle with Major League Baseball. Unlike other owners, Angelos has refused to field replacement players.
Asked Sen. Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, who opposes the measures: “When has Peter Angelos ever been unable to defend himself?”
Even supporters acknowledge that two concerns could sink the legislation faster than a well-thrown curveball:
First, a move to ban replacement players could conflict with the federal government, which has jurisdiction over labor regulation.
But Curran and Pica argue that, because the state owns Camden Yards and could lose millions without the real Orioles, the legislation would protect the state’s investment. It would serve a proprietary, not a regulatory interest, they reason.
However, a state attorney general’s opinion published Tuesday warns “there is no guarantee that this could be sustained in a court challenge.”
Second, some lawmakers believe the bills will weaken Baltimore’s chances of getting a National Football League expansion team.
Pica, an associate in Angelos’ Baltimore law firm and a sponsor of one of the Senate bills, downplayed this concern, saying Baltimore has already been ignored by the NFL.
“They’re not going to give us a franchise,” he said.
In general, lawmakers and fans believe that Angelos holds the moral high ground in the baseball dispute. According to pollster Peter Hart, hired by the Orioles to guage attitudes toward replacement players, 87 percent of season ticket holders support Angelos.
“I think the league would be foolhardy in terms of its own image to go after Angelos,” Curran said.
The bills’ “emergency” status would make them law immediately if they passed by a 60 percent vote of each house and were signed by the governor. A spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said that, although the governor has vowed to use his power to stop replacement players from appearing in Camden Yards, he doesn’t have a position on the two bills. -30-