It takes 20 minutes: 2010 Orioles – Better on the field, for sure (I think)

April 02, 2010 | Drew Forrester

For 12 straight seasons, the Orioles have posted a losing record.

General interest has sagged throughout those dozen years. Attendance is at an all-time low for Camden Yards.  And throughout a great portion of the last decade, the club’s front office operated as if they were doing the city of Baltimore a favor just by fielding a team.

Now, 2010 has arrived and it’s in this upcoming baseball season that Orioles fans everywhere are expecting to finally see the benefits of the Andy MacPhail-Dave Trembley regime.  In June of ’07, MacPhail inherited the train-wreck-otherwise-as-known-as-the-O’s and not long after that he sent manager Sam Perlozzo packing and handed over the reigns to Trembley.  Ever since, those two have been running the show.

It’s been 33 months since MacPhail assumed control of the team.  They were losing when he took over.  They’ve continued to lose.  And as they enter the ’10 campaign, even MacPhail himself has said this is the year that “winning and losing matters”.

It’s about time.

Winning and losing SHOULD start mattering here in Baltimore.  After all, it matters greatly to the football team in town.  Shouldn’t it also matter to the baseball team too?  According to MacPhail, winning and losing counts for something now.

By no means am I trying to sound threatening when I say this, but it will most certainly come across that way when I offer the following:

The Orioles BETTER show improvement this season.

No more “we’re a year away” or “if a couple of our prospects come around next season” or “it’s awfully tough competing in the American League East”.

Those lines have been used, over-used and abused.  Their expiration date has long since passed.

The fans in this town have suffered long enough, for starters, and they’ve been paying major league prices to see what some would consider a minor league product for most of the last three years.

They’d better start winning more games soon.  As in, now.

This is, after all, the way MacPhail wanted the team to be welded together under his supervision.

Because a lot of area O’s fans view him as the equivalent of Baseball Almighty, Andy tends to get the free pass while Dave Trembley gets to plant his rump on the hot seat.

MacPhail’s the architect of this club.  He’s the one over the last few years who slashed the payroll from $93 million (when he took over) to roughly $65 million or so this season.  Over the last two full seasons, the club has saved roughly $50 million with flashy off-season trades that ridded the club of high-dollar deals for guys like Tejada, Bedard and Hernandez.  And under the guise of MacPhail’s self-created philosophy – “we’re gonna buy the bats and grow the arms” – the ballclub has stocked an impressive array of young, talented pitchers.  They ARE growing the arms, there’s no doubt about that.

But MacPhail’s one major failing, thus far (I’m not counting the Uehara experiment as a complete failure yet…even though he appears to be a $10 million flop of a signing) is his inability to follow through on the promise to “buy the bats”.

In fact, the most money the club spent on a free agent this past off-season was the $12 million they forked over for a closer.  No one in the media talks about that or holds Andy’s feet to the fire because they’re all afraid they might lose their media credential, but it’s true.  In an off-season where he pledged – again – to “buy the bats” – MacPhail’s biggest investment instead was a left arm.

More truth about the gospel of Andy MacPhail:  Over the last two winters, he’s failed to put together a make-him-really-consider-it offer for Mark Teixeira, showed zero interest at all in either Chone Figgins or Adrian Beltre, and for some wacky reason, slugger Matt Holliday actually hinted that he wanted to play in Baltimore and the Birds didn’t make a legitimate offer to him, either.

When it came time for Andy to buy the bats, he didn’t.  He hasn’t bought a bat in 33 months.  What he HAS done over the last 33 months – money-wise – is cut the team’s payroll by roughly 30%.  And what he’s also done, player wise, is oversee a possibly-historic grooming of sensational young arms.  For that, we might be forever indebted to MacPhail.  But if we’re going to call a spade a spade, let’s call it like it is:  We’ve grown the arms and ignored the bats in Andy’s 33 months on the job.  And that’s mainly because growing the arms is a task done cheaply and buying the bats costs real money.  Big money, most times.

That’s not a low blow, it’s a fact.

And the excuse for not signing a high-dollar bat is always either one of two:  “that’s just too much money” – or – “we don’t want to block any of our young position players on their way up to the big leagues”.

So MacPhail’s promise to “buy the bats” hasn’t resulted in any bat being bought, unless you count the aging Miguel Tejada (I don’t) or the recently declining Garrett Atkins (I don’t).

And that’s why I say MacPhail is as much on the hot seat as Trembley this year.

I’m not talking about hot seat as in “you’re gone if it doesn’t get better”.  I’m in no way advocating that for MacPhail.  I think – on the whole – Andy has done a commendable job thus far in his 33 months on the job.

But this team is HIS construction piece now.  Dave Trembley just manages the employees he’s handed.  Andy MacPhail does the hiring.

And if they don’t start winning more games this season – as he’s already said SHOULD be the case – than MacPhail has to get the requisite amount of blame.

Anyone who listens to The Comcast Morning Show has heard my optimism for the upcoming campaign.  I think the Orioles are in position to make significant, evident strides in 2010.  I’m calling for a 75-win season, personally.  And even though 75-87 would be a far cry from contending or throwing a scare at the Yankees or the Red Sox, in the baby-steps-first world, they’d be getting out of size 3 shoes and putting on size 8’s if they could somehow finish the campaign at or above the 75-win mark.

I haven’t always approved of the way they’ve done things since MacPhail took over, but I’m also smart enough to watch the games – even when the team stinks…as in last season and the season before – and recognize that young players like Wieters, Jones, Reimold, Matusz and Bergesen could be the kind of players that wind up being spokes-in-a-contending-wheel in the near future.

I’m more than willing at this juncture to sign-off on my hopes for 2010 and say “I’m all in” on the MacPhail-Trembley plan for the upcoming season.

If I didn’t think they were going to be better than last year’s 64-98 towel-thrown-in-by-mid-August bunch, I’d certainly say so.

But I do believe they’ll be “decent” this year…improved…more consistent…and capable of playing with just about everyone except the Yankees and Red Sox on just about any day or night.

And if they fail to generate enough offense to compete this season, you can always go back to the team’s miserly approach in the last three winter spending seasons and say, along with me, “you get what you pay for, Andy.”

That takes care of ON the field.  My summary:  The O’s are going to be improved in 2010.

OFF the field, though, I’m not nearly as certain the club is making strides to improve themselves.  Off the field, if I’m being honest – and I’m going to be – a lot of things about that outfit on Russell Street still sucks.

Their winter announcement that day-of-game ticket sales at the OPACY box office would reflect a $2 to $5 “surcharge” remains the most puzzling of all the puzzling marketing/operational things they’ve EVER done – and that’s saying something, because they’re capable of writing a book on Bad PR.

Then, throughout the month of February, they told anyone (and everyone) that would listen the ONLY way to purchase opening day tickets was to purchase a mini-plan or other multi-game ticket package.  Yet on a snowy Saturday in February, I went on-line and bought EIGHTEEN (18) opening day tickets — all together — which I promptly used to put together my own special group of first-game-goers at next Friday’s home opener against the Blue Jays.

Why all the fibbing and posturing and marketing manipulation?  Why not just sell the tickets openly, without disguise or a hoodwinking endeavor to extract more money from the fans?

Whatever happened to the concept of making it EASY to purchase tickets?  The club’s horrible effort at explaining the day-of-game surcharge went something like this:  “We’d like to reward our great fans who purchase their tickets in advance.”

If the O’s would just adopt THIS theory — “We’d like to reward our great fans” — they’d be a lot better off.

Anyone that purchases a ticket should be rewarded.  Not punished.  Then again, the Birds front office clearly knows what they’re doing as it relates to ticket sales.  Just take a look at last year’s attendance figures for confirmation of that statement.

On second thought, don’t look at those numbers.  They were the lowest attendance figures in Camden Yards history.

Speaking of fibbing, the ballclub once again OPENLY lied to me this spring as it relates to spring training and covering the team in Sarasota.

In early January, I started contacting the team (with no success, of course) about the possibility of going to Sarasota for 3-5 days in late February/early March to “cover” spring training.  After a month of no replies, a higher-up at WNST was finally able to secure a meeting with the head honcho of the team’s PR department and the following guidelines were set.  “Drew can cover spring training, but he will not be allowed to conduct ANY one-on-one interviews with players or management while he’s there.”

No one-on-one interviews.  How are you supposed to cover the team if you can’t interview anyone?

The reasoning behind the “no interviews” edict was, according to the Orioles, a case of respecting the (supposed) contractual obligation they entered into with their “rightsholder”, namely CBS Radio, the team’s broadcast partner.

I typed the word (supposed) in the sentence above because two years ago at a charity golf outing dinner, a high-ranking CBS Radio official laughed at the notion that his station had any kind of “exclusivity” with regard to the O’s and their players and management being ONLY allowed to appear on a Baltimore CBS-owned radio station.

When the O’s insisted again this February that only their radio “rightsholder” would be allowed to interview their players one-on-one at spring training, I figured it didn’t make much sense to go down there and cover the events at Sarasota.

If you can’t take a tape recorder down there and have a 10-minute sitdown with Jeremy Guthrie, for example, what’s the use of going to Sarasota, right?

Well, it turns out you CAN do a 10-minute interview with Jeremy Guthrie, even if you’re NOT a rightsholder.

You just have to be Jerry Coleman from AM 1370.

Coleman visited with Guthrie, Andy MacPhail and Luke Scott while HE was in Sarasota.  And he didn’t sneak the interviews in…or catch up with the guys at the dog track…or put on a Steve Melewski mask so he’d have unlimited access to those three.

The Orioles SET-UP the interviews for him.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Comcast SportsNet (TV) did ELEVEN (11) one-on-one interviews while they were in Sarasota but after they were questioned on that, the O’s said, “The rightsholders obligation only relates to radio, not TV”.

Of course, they didn’t tell anyone that BEFORE spring training.

And when they told me via e-mail that I wasn’t permitted to conduct one-on-one interviews at spring training, they were quick to reaffirm to me that this was the way it was going to be for everyone who wasn’t a rightsholder.

“It’s nothing personal, Drew.  We just have to follow our contractual agreement with our rightsholders, that’s all.”

Yeah, “nothing personal, Drew”.  That’s what Mark David Chapman said to John Lennon that night.   “It’s nothing personal, John.”

I’ll give the O’s credit:  They stayed true to their word for about 15 days or so.  Or until Jerry set up camp down there.   Once he was there, the contract with CBS Radio that supposedly MANDATES exclusivity suddenly didn’t mandate anything anymore.

And that, of course, is because the whole “exclusivity” thing with rightsholders is a lie.  It always has been.

So while I’ve been quick to approve the stewardship of Andy MacPhail and give him the benefit of the doubt with regard to the hopeful improvement of the team’s on-field product, it’s more apparent than ever before that off-the-field, the club’s bush-league public relations efforts continues to somewhat impede whatever on-field progress the organization is making.

For the record, I gave the Orioles the opportunity to provide an “official” response to this blog and the outright lies they told me this spring with regard to covering the team in Sarasota, but, as usual, they didn’t reply.

In this case, I can understand why they didn’t reply.

They were caught red-handed this time around. There are no fancy buzz-words or fine print or “maybe we weren’t as clear as we should have been” excuses.  I kept all the e-mails they exchanged with our WNST Vice President in January and February.

The Orioles LIED about their policies and my ability to go to Sarasota and cover the team in February.

I couldn’t go to spring training and interview Andy MacPhail because WNST isn’t a rightsholder.

But Jerry Coleman (AM 1370)?  He was allowed to interview Andy MacPhail in Sarasota.  And Jeremy Guthrie.

It’s bush league.

I don’t hold anything against Jerry.  I’m sure he was snickering the whole time.  I’ve talked to him about the way the Orioles lie.  He definitely understands that what they’ve done to me is about as unprofessional as it gets.  He also knows if he’s not careful, he’s next.  That’s why he’s soft on them, even though they’ve lost for 12 years and their attendance is at an all-time low.  That’s why EVERYONE at The Fan, 1370, WBAL and MASN is soft on the Birds.  They know what’s coming if they get on the team’s bad side.  They’ll get “The Drew Treatment”.

And the funniest part of all?

I bought 18 tickets to opening day.

I wonder if any other media member in town bought 18 tickets to opening day?  I’m sure Jerry didn’t.  I’m sure Rob Long didn’t.  I wonder if anyone who works for the “rightsholder” bought 18 tickets?  What about the guys who are basically employees-in-law who work for  Think any of them bought 18 tickets?  I can’t imagine they did.

Let’s forget about 18 tickets.  Did ANY of those folks above buy 6 tickets to opening day?  Just six.  Right, I didn’t think so.

I know I plunked down my credit card and bought $500 worth of opening day tickets.

I bought the 18 tickets because I’m an Orioles fan.  I always have been, in fact.

Even when the team lies to me, I keep on going back.

Let’s hope the rest of Baltimore is as kind as me this spring and summer.

They’ve been lied to for 12 years now.

The winning needs to start and the lying needs to stop.

Once that happens, maybe the fans will start going back to the ballpark again.