While acknowledging that Nestor “Nasty” Aparicio (above, right) is seen by many as “a shameless and relentless self-promoter who really can get down and very dirty on and off the air with anyone who might happen to disagree with him,” the Washington Post’s Leonard Shapiro raises questions surrounding the Orioles refusal to grant media credentials to one of the team’s more vocal critics.

In years past, Aparicio’s major forum was his daily sports talk show on WNST radio, a 5,000-watt radio station that gives listeners all local sports talk all the time from sun-up to sun-down seven days a week. The station, now owned by Aparicio, has a loyal following (even if it is ranked 29th in listeners among 30 stations in the Baltimore market rated by Arbitron) and also produces a lively daily web site (WNST.net) almost completely devoted to local Baltimore sports.

Last year, in the midst of a ninth straight losing season and much to the dismay of Orioles management, Aparicio also took it upon himself to lead a “Free The Birds” protest urging Angelos to sell the team. Plugged incessantly on his own station, it involved hundreds of fans going to Camden yards for a game against the Detroit Tigers on Sept., 21 then walking out en masse in the fourth inning. Aparicio says 2,000 fans participated; the Orioles say it was more like 1,000, but the protest got plenty of local and national coverage, much to Aparicio’s delight.

Club management clearly was not amused. Angelos, in fact, was quoted at the time describing Aparicio as “a very unimportant person who has delusions of grandeur.”

The Orioles have granted eight WNST employees media credentials to cover the team and even threw in a couple of precious parking passes. But Aparicio was denied a press pass. If he wants to go to the ball park, he’ll have to buy a ticket just like everyone else. And now, Nasty is mad as hell and vowing not to take it any more, even threatening possible legal action against the team ownership he loves to hate.

“I’ve been telling the truth about the baseball team for years,” Aparicio said. “I live two blocks from the ball park. I’ve seen what their mismanagement has done to the team. Nobody goes, and I’ve seen what it does to businesses downtown, the bars, the restaurants, the hotels. The city is struggling. Downtown is struggling. The Orioles could really help that situation, but not the way they’re running that organization.”

Several members of the Baltimore media interviewed on background for this piece also indicated there is little question in their minds that the Orioles’ decision to deny Aparicio a press credential clearly smacks of payback, mostly stemming from last year’s September protest as well as his countless other transgressions aimed toward the team.

“I write a column, I still blog, I go on the air, I’m still an active member of the media,” Aparicio said. “I’ve never been turned down for a credential in my life. They keep telling me I’m not a legitimate member of the media. But they’re the only ones. Here’s the other thing. If they can pull my credential, who’s next? I’ve had a bunch of calls and e-mails from guys covering the team telling me to keep fighting, because we can’t.”

Much as I hate taking Peter Angelos’ side in anything, it would appear as though WNST’s website is down.