News Clips— Ever the diplomat

AMBASSADOR GEORGE ARGYROS? Sounds as peculiar as Peacemaker bin Laden. But the word is that the reviled former Seattle Mariners owner—now chair of the Richard Nixon Library and the Californian who raised $30 million last year for the Republicans—will soon be making friends and influencing people overseas.

Surely, this isn't just a political rebate from the man who vowed to restore "honesty and integrity" to the White House—even if, as rumored, President George Bush names the Greek Argyros as ambassador to Spain. No, it's probably an acknowledgment of what the 64-year-old billionaire has done for the Spanish-speaking residents of his native Orange County. In a civil court filing just last week, Argyros' land company was accused of overcharging minorities for security deposits and illegally evicting them en masse.

As ambassador-in-training here for nine years as the M's owner, the Newport Beach developer would lead Kingdome crowds in the national anthem while standing atop the team's dugout, a practice he later gave up for the same reasons presidents no longer ride in open convertibles. Loathed as a carpetbag landlord, Argyros slowly sold off the team's top talent, then peddled the franchise (for $60 million more than he paid) in 1989 to radio magnate Jeff Smulyan, who two years later sold to the Nintendo consortium.

After unsuccessfully attempting to buy the San Diego Padres (a deal that a Seattle sportswriter said would have made San Diego "the luckiest city since Beirut"), Argyros returned to making foes in Orange County, particularly through his investment of Seattle baseball profits into the divisive, billion-dollar international airport plan for the old El Toro Marine base. Over seven years, the airport was approved, then disapproved, by voters, and now—surprise!--may be resuscitated by the Bush administration.

Though his background may make Argyros a natural for the Bush diplomatic corps, others will remember him another way. I was reminded of this during a tour boat cruise of Newport Harbor a couple years ago. Having pointed out the current or past homes of such stars as Peter Falk and John Wayne, and a club where the Rat Pack used to hang, the tour guide's voice seem to rise in anticipation of the estate looming ahead on the shoreline. "And this," he said, pointing, "is the home of George Argyros, ex-owner of the Seattle Mariners."

"Booo!" came the Bronx cheer from the back of the boat. I turned and saw a stranger rise from his seat to give a big thumbs-down. "It never fails," said the guide to the laughing boatload.


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