Appropriate starting point for MacPhail as New York comes to town

June 26, 2007 | Drew Forrester

If ever Andy MacPhail needed to see for himself just how far his new employer has sunk in the eyes of Baltimore baseball fans, he needs only to wait another 24 hours or so and he’ll see it all too clear.

MacPhail’s tenure as the Orioles President of Baseball Operations began last week, but he’ll get his first TRUE lesson in what lies ahead when the Yankees come to town this week.

Starting tomorrow night, he’ll witness an invasion of Yankees’ fans that can only be categorized – at least to Baltimore baseball followers – as embarrassing and downright unthinkable.  For three nights, New York fans will outnumber Baltimore fans in large numbers, although the joke’s really on THEM right? – remember, the braintrusts in the front office RAISED the ticket prices for Yankee games in Baltimore as a method of “sticking it to them”.  Boy, I bet that’ll keep ’em away this week, huh?  Not hardly.

The New Yorkers will saunter in half-snookered starting on Tuesday night and the first time Jeter or A-Rod or Posada hits a home run, it’ll sound like you’re in the Bronx.  Heaven forbid they actually win a game or two in this series – the Yankees faithful will hoot and holler and jeer as if they’ve just won the World Series.  They’re annoying as hell, of course, and the worst thing of all?  They outnumber us…what can you say when the visitors draw more fans than the home team?  Not much, of course.

But despite the headaches, hassles and “international signs” that get flicked at Camden Yards this week, it’s very appropriate that Andy MacPhail sees this for what it is.  A city once proud of its baseball franchise has been reduced to NOT going – unless a bobblehead give-away is planned – and in addition to not going, they’ve lost their will to even go to the games if for no other reason than to keep those hateful New Yorkers OUT of the ballpark.  For the most part, Baltimore just doesn’t care anymore.

I’ve been saying for a while now that MacPhail’s ability to improve the TEAM far outweighs his ability to improve the FRANCHISE.  It’s probably not even in MacPhail’s job description to get fans back in the ballpark…it’s certainly not his obligation to get the O’s to stop this petty fight with the Stadium Authority and get a new Video Scoreboard before the current one catches fire in the middle of a game …and he’s probably NOT that concerned with how the ushers treat the fans…and I can’t assume he’s going to get worked up about the team’s silly, bush-league and senseless policies with the local media that keep people like MacPhail from talking to the fans through the local press.  And I can’t imagine that MacPhail is even remotely worried about putting the word “BALTIMORE” back in the team logo – it was removed by his boss in 1995 – and/or on the front of the team’s away uniforms.

In fact, it’s probably easier to make a trade with the White Sox than it is to convince Peter, Greg Bader and all of the other marketing experts at the Warehouse who think it’s unwise to put Baltimore on the road jerseys as a mechanism for re-storing some small connection with the fans the team has abandoned over the last 10 years.  After all, as Bader said a month ago, “the team will not allow a vocal minority of fans or media to push forward an agenda…”  How true – why let the great unwashed have a say in anything?

MacPhail will soon learn – starting tomorrow night – that this city doesn’t resemble the one his dad worked in four decades ago.  The baseball team’s position in the community has changed dramatically – and not for the better.  And although he signed on to fix the team ON THE FIELD, their problems OFF THE FIELD are far greater and require much more attention than just one experienced, eager suit-wearing executive.  To fix this team OFF THE FIELD, a group of marketing and PR people need to arrive at that stadium every day with their sleeves rolled up – ready to get dirty.  They need to find some people who care.  And they need to find people who care enough to want to fix what’s wrong.

Unfortunately, tomorrow night and Wednesday and Thursday, MacPhail will see first-hand that not enough people in town care.  What should be crowds of 40,000 per-night, minimum, will more likely be three crowds of 30,000 or so.  And make no mistake about it, 65% of the human beings in that stadium this week will be rooting for Jeter, A-Rod and “Rajah”.

It’s the way it is these days.  Nothing can change it at this point.  It will be embarrassing, as always.  But best of all, it will give Andy MacPhail a true glimpse at how far this franchise has sunk.

Win or lose this week, Andy MacPhail will realize this battle is much, much more than just beating the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox, etc.

It’s about re-storing pride.

And if he wants to see what it’s like for a city to be proud of its baseball team, he’ll get an eyeful this week when the Yankees invade Camden Yards.

Take notes, Andy.

The ones who care will be wearing the hats with “NY” on the front.

Those who don’t care – won’t be there.