Flying In Opposite Directions

January 11, 2008 | Thyrl Nelson

Since the arrival of the Ravens in Baltimore in 1996, the two franchises that occupy the Camden Yards complex seem incapable of being successful at the same time. What’s more, is that both franchises seem to operate as if they were each others biggest rivals and that this town isn’t big enough for the both of them. Sadly they may be right.
It is both the best of times and the worst of times. When the Ravens came to Baltimore and set up camp in ‘96, rivalries were tough to come by. They had new colors, a new city, and a fan base starved for football, but one that was made up of fans who had been rooting for other teams for over a decade. Although rivalries with the Steelers, Titans and Jaguars quickly became heated, the Ravens didn’t have any history, nor were they very competitive, so they were basically without a rival at first. Well, without an NFL rival that is.
The Ravens did ruffle a few feathers on the way in to town. They displaced the CFL Stallions who were in the midst of a nice little run here in Baltimore, and signed a sweetheart stadium deal that quickly drew the attention, ire and criticism of Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Still, the fans were selling out OPACY in droves, and he O’s, were still the kings of the market.
While having football back in Baltimore was long overdue, and fans were anxious to embrace it, the team was far from competitive, and fans took a while to come around to being the true die-hards that you see now at M&T Bank Stadium. Meanwhile, the O’s were enjoying their second straight season of leading baseball in attendance, and their first playoff appearance since the Colts had left town. Indeed things had come full circle in Baltimore.
While the Ravens floundered through the ’96 and ’97 seasons, the O’s followed up their ’96 playoff campaign with a wire-to-wire AL East title in 1997. And although both teams weren’t winning at once, it was a great time to be a Baltimore sports fan. The O’s were spending and making money like crazy, and looked to be poised for a long run of playoff contention, while the Ravens, well, we were just happy to have football back in Baltimore.
By 1998 and ’99 the teams were headed in opposite directions. The Ravens, as it turns out were in the process of adding the last few pieces to the puzzle that would eventually earn them a Superbowl trophy in 2000, while the O’s were liquidating high priced, aging veterans and looking to get younger and rebuild quickly.
The histories of both teams been like opposite sides of the pendulum ever since. The Ravens have been on a sustained run of excellence, a model franchise routinely scalped for talent and used as a model for other teams to emulate. Even a salary cap purge in 2002 couldn’t keep the Ravens down, quickly rebounding to playoff contention. They have kept the cornerstones of the franchise in place, and have successfully built around them through the draft and shrewd free agent pick-ups. They have also been the model of openness and free access to both the fans and media, and have quickly built a proud and storied tradition.
Meanwhile, at the warehouse, the O’s have never quite been able to finish up that rebuilding project that they began in 1998. This despite the fact that a core of veterans has always been kept in place, even throughout the rebuilding process, and several attempts were made at big splashes in free agency. The Orioles have seemingly gone out of their way at times to alienate the fans and media, and have quickly turned a once proud franchise into a benchmark for dysfunction and ineptitude.
Over the course of the last decade, the Ravens have remained relatively intact in the front office. They have lost their fair share of executives to other clubs, but haven’t had any really major shakeups. Even going so far as to keep David Modell on board after the ownership change to ease in making the transition more seamless. One thing that has been clear about the Ravens for the last decade or so is that no matter who owns the team, or what title he holds, Ozzie calls the shots.
The Orioles on the other hand, have had a revolving door of coaches, managers, farm directors, and general managers, even multiple combinations of general managers during the last decade. It has seemed to the general public that no ones role is clearly defined, and therefore no one clearly calls the shots. Others would argue that Angelos himself clearly calls the shots, but I think he picks and chooses his spots. Clearly Angelos has been the last word on all of the major decisions, but no one seems sure who is handling what from day to day.
So now, it appears that the pendulum again may be swinging back in the O’s favor, and they’ll have a significant chance in the coming days and weeks to capitalize on it too. Ever since the press conference, it seems to be less and less clear who is calling the shots in Owings Mills these days. Ozzie clearly appeared blindsided at the press conference, and many have speculated that it’s Cass who has Bisciotti’s ear. I for one, believe that Bisciotti, whether consciously or subconsciously, is ready to make wholesale changes in the front office and put his stamp on this team. Ozzie is next I believe, but not until after the draft at least, and more likely some time after the 2008 season.
There is also a lot of mystery surrounding the head-coaching search right now, and even though it’s probably the wise thing to do from the Ravens perspective, it certainly gives the O’s and Andy McPhail an opportunity to step up and command a few headlines.
McPhail, at least for now, clearly seems to be running the O’s. He has already managed to trade Miguel Tejada just days before the release of the Mitchell report, and is currently shopping two of the hottest commodities on the hot stove wire, Erik Bedard and Brian Roberts. While trading away the few superstar caliber players that the team has would seem bad for business, fans of the O’s realize that this team is still at least a few years away, and won’t likely be able to keep either of those guys beyond 2009 anyway.
If Brian Roberts is traded to the Cubs this week for a package that brings in young pitching, and then Bedard is moved to bring in either Adam Jones or Jay Bruce among others (if the Reds don’t offer Bruce, I’d look elsewhere) than O’s fans would have lots of reasons to be happy. Not just because it would give us lots to discuss in the coming weeks leading up to spring training, but also because it would simply represent a change. It would give us faith that McPhail truly is in control of baseball operations, at least for now, and that this team finally has a plan.
If they were able to get rid of some more baggage this week, like Melvin Mora or Kevin Millar that would make the fans happy too. It looks like Aubrey Huff’s surgery will preclude him from being traded before the spring, and increases the likelihood that he’ll be here on opening day. If I were Andy McPhail, I’d pull out all the stops this week.
McPhail needs to pull off at least one deal, and he needs to open up to the media too. Like the Ravens, I can’t blame McPhail for trying to keep his cards close to his vest right now, given the competitive nature of negotiations. But getting at least one deal done would give him something to talk about.
He should talk about Matt Weiters too, the O’s first round draft pick is quickly getting the scouts attention and the future looks bright for him. McPhail needs to get the O’s fans on board with his efforts. He needs to build around guys like Adam Loewen, Jeremy Guthrie and even Chris Ray. Chris Ray’s injury leaves you little choice but to keep him in the mix for now at least, and trading Guthrie wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea either. Guthrie’s stock has to be at an all time high, and 2007 was the exception in his career, and not the rule.
McPhail should be going out of his way to make Nick Markakis feel like Cal Ripken for the next few years. This team needs to make Markakis feel comfortable, and begin to put an emphasis on being able to retain our players beyond their first shot at free agency. With Weiters and Billy Rowell likely 2 years away, and loads of prospects likely to be added through trades, the future may actually look bright for the Orioles.
Whether the 2 year plan will come to fruition or not is another story altogether, but the O’s could probably get 2 years worth of good press out of it at least. Fans are simply ready for a change, and we may be seeing the early stages of it right now. At Owings Mills on the other hand, change may not be so welcome.
Everything in life is relative. The Ravens seemed to be rolling along for a decade, and now the thought of slowing down is scary. The O’s have been stuck in reverse for so long, that fans would be happy just to get back to a stop. These two teams, with the same address, the same fan base, and the same relative goals, can never seem to get going in the same direction at once. It looks as if the pendulum may be ready to swing again, ready or not.