Orioles in Review, Part 2 — If only Buck ran the PR department

October 06, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Record:  Not good.

Attendance:  Down about 8%

Typically, those are the only two things that matter about a sports franchise.

How many games did you win?

How many people entered the facility to watch the games?

In the case of the 2010 Orioles, you can sum up both questions with this answer:  Not enough.

Yet, for the first time in nearly a decade, there will be legitimate, easy-to-smell off-season enthusiasm for what might be in 2011 at Camden Yards. 

And who is the guy in the kitchen creating that smell?  Buck Showalter

The 2010 campaign is broken down like this:

Before Buck — the team stunk, attendance was down and the players displayed little get-up in their step.

After Buck — the team was good, attendance was still down, and the players looked energized and motivated.

What was the magic Buck Formula?  I don’t think anyone knows.  The players haven’t really talked about it all that much, because the record (Pre-Buck vs. With Buck) shows that perhaps all of the guys in orange weren’t really trying all that hard prior to August.  But the facts are easy to see, especially if you actually watched the games:  the players – nearly all of them – performed MUCH better under Buck Showalter. 

In review of the entire season, it’s fair to note that it all started off poorly due to the fact that Andy MacPhail tried to improve the team last winter by hiring hourly wage workers and expecting them to perform as expertly as a $100,000 salaried employee would.  While Dave Trembley needs to get some of the blame, since he WAS the manager of the outfit until June, it’s fair to point out that Trembley was handed a supposed-power-hitting-first-baseman who shot blanks, a veteran-pitcher who went 4-16, a closer who showed up hurt and a utility infielder who offered next-to-nothing.  Trembley didn’t bring Atkins, Millwood, Gonzalez and Lugo to Baltimore, MacPhail did.

Showalter’s arrival in August included a few obvious changes to the way the club did business on and off the field.  Buck’s first order of business was to mandate that players stop poking fun at/pranking with catcher Matt Wieters, who was apparently the subject of one-too-many practical jokes throughout his first 15 months with the club.  The new skipper also delivered the “you’re all starting from scratch with me” speech and gave each and every player a clean slate for the last two months of the season.  And Showalter was much more patient with his starting pitchers, allowing them to work their way out of mid-game jams…something Trembley wouldn’t do very much. 

Make no mistake about it:  The players played better, harder and smarter for Buck Showalter in August and September.

And the club was MUCH better on the field with Buck running the show.

Off the field in 2010, the numbers support what we all already knew:  Baseball is suffering in Baltimore.

The Birds finished 24th in attendance in 2010, averaging 21,662 (tickets sold) at Camden Yards.  That figure represents a drop off of nearly 8% from the 2009 average of 23,545.

A number of factors could be attributed to the decline in attendance in Baltimore, including things out of their control like the nation’s economy and the promise and rise of the Ravens, who continue to dominate the market from August through April every year and command a large chunk of the community’s discretionary spending.

One thing the Orioles do control continues to bog them down:  their relationship – as a front office – with the local media.  Almost across the board, the Ravens function with great efficiency as it relates to dealing with local TV, radio and newspaper entities.  The football team believes in the “everyone is our friend” theory, which means they freely allow their players to appear on any radio station in town that’s willing to put them on…or talk to any newspaper or dedicated football web-site that has enough distribution to warrant the team’s approval.  You can’t go a day during the regular season (except, perhaps, for Tuesday — the player’s off-day) without hearing a Ravens player LIVE on someone’s radio show in town.  That “group-hug” theme by the Ravens organization is one of the reasons why 70,000 show up 10 times a year at the football stadium.

The Orioles continue to exercise horrible judgment when it comes to dealing with local radio and TV stations.  That’s not a low blow…it’s just a fact.  Home-stand after home-stand, the Orioles don’t make any effort to promote their players or the upcoming home games via local radio or TV — and then when no one shows up at the ballpark, their basic response is (and has been) — “they’ll all come back when the team wins.”

As a matter of public record, the Orioles were contacted on several occasions this week in preparation for this blog-series and refused to return any e-mails or phone calls.

The Orioles also shot themselves in the foot – make that, took a knife to their jugular vein – by initiating a silly “day of game surcharge” on tickes purchased by fans at the stadium on the day of a home game.  The club tried to explain the decsion by noting that other teams in baseball have adopted the same policy, but we’re all smart enough to point out that few, if any, teams in big league baseball have torched their fan base the way the Orioles have for the last decade. 

This isn’t second guessing, because I said this last April:  The day-of-game surcharge was the dumbest PR move/operational decision in the Peter Angelos-owned era of the Orioles.  All it did – and the numbers support this – was contribute to the decline in attendance.

The final element of the Orioles dysfunctional front office operation includes Andy MacPhail, but I’m not 100% certain this is MacPhail’s fault.  The team’s decision to shield MacPhail from the media is laughable, considering his acumen (he’s not possibly afraid of people like me, right?) and the overall interest level the media has in Orioles baseball and the team’s effort to rebound from a dismal decade.  MacPhail – if he played his cards right – could OWN the media in town.  All he would have to do is take on all comers and not be afraid to answer real questions about his decisions and the future of the team’s playing roster.  Unfortunately, MacPhail is under direction to not speak with the media unless it’s approved “by the club”, a fact that not only serves as an embarrassment to one of baseball’s top minds, but further cements the point that the club – generally – doesn’t have a clue how to handle their own PR.

Tomorrow, I’ll deal with suggestions and ideas for how the team can improve on and off the field in 2011.

For now, though, the summary of 2010 is as simple as this:

Thank God for Buck Showalter.

Once he showed up, the players started trying again, the games got interesting again and the future started to look a little bright, again. 

If only the fans would start caring again.

And they will, someday, if the organization goes out of their way to embrace them.

In the meantime, thank you Buck.

Thanks for keeping us somewhat interested during football season.  It’s been a while since that’s happened.

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