Justice Dept. Probes Orioles
Helms Accuses Club of Discriminating Against Cuban Players
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Justice Department is investigating the Baltimore Orioles' hiring
practices to determine whether the Orioles illegally discriminate against
The investigation was prompted by a letter sent by Sen. Jesse Helms
(R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to U.S.
Attorney General Janet Reno in late May. In the letter, Helms said the
Orioles appeared to illegally discriminate against Cubans by allegedly
refusing to sign them to professional contracts.
In a letter dated July 6, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben
responded to Helms that the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration
Related Unfair Employment Practices "has opened an independent
investigation of the Baltimore Orioles to determine whether the alleged
player hiring policies and practices violate the prohibition against citizenship
As of last night, the Orioles had no comment. Attempts to reach Orioles
majority owner Peter Angelos were unsuccessful.
"We're satisfied there is an investigation taking place and we'll see how
comes out," said Helms spokesman Marc Thiessen. "Clearly the Justice
Department takes it seriously enough that it it worth opening an
investigation into. We're happy they're proceeding and we'll be watching
It is unknown how long the investigation will take or what will happen
it is completed, a Justice Department spokesman said.
The investigation was reported in yesterday's Washington Times.
Raben also wrote that the allegations contained in Helms's letter "may
implicate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits national
origin discrimination." That law is enforced by the Equal Employment
A source close to Helms said the senator is drafting a letter to send this
week to the EEOC that will ask that group to start its own investigation of
the Orioles. Previously, the conservative public interest law firm Judicial
Watch filed a complaint with the EEOC.
"Peter Angelos is a lawyer; he knows what the law is and one can tell
immediately from the backtracking his lawyers are doing in the press after
they had a lapse that they knew what the policy is and they screwed up,"
Thiessen said. "It is serious enough for the Justice Department to
investigate it. Unfortunately for him, being friends with Fidel Castro doesn't
put you above the law."
EEOC spokesman David Grinburg said he could not say whether the
EEOC had received any complaints or if an investigation was underway.
Helms's letter to Reno was prompted by comments in May by Syd Thrift,
the Orioles vice president of baseball operations, who said that the Orioles
had no interest in signing Cuban defectors even though several high-caliber
players have come from the tiny island nation. The "concept" as Thrift
called it, stemmed from the Orioles' two exhibition games against Cuban
all-stars last year.
"After the goodwill created between the two countries by the visit,
we--Mr. Angelos in particular--feel it best to not do anything that could be
interpreted as being disrespectful or . . . encouraging players to defect,"
Thrift told the Times.
Last month, Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.), chairman of the House
Education and Workforce Committee, and Judicial Watch asked
Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig to investigate the Orioles' hiring
Selig responded to Judicial Watch chairman and general counsel Larry
Klayman, saying he was aware of Helms's letter to Reno but had no plan
to take action.
"In light of this pending administrative proceeding I feel it would be
inappropriate for me to comment or take any action with respect to the
Baltimore Club," Selig wrote.
Attempts to reach Selig yesterday were unsuccessful.