It takes 20 minutes: Orioles shouldn’t run from the challenge flag

April 26, 2010 | Drew Forrester

In order to read, digest and even accept today’s missive, I’m going to ask you to do something you’ll probably wind up not really appreciating.

And no…it’s not “buy Orioles tickets”.

I’m going to ask you to watch something.

It will set up the orderly discussion that follows about the Orioles and this woeful start to the 2010 season and what might lie ahead for our beloved orange-feathered friends.

So, let’s get it started.

I’d ask you to watch this IN ITS ENTIRETY – even if you don’t want to 30 seconds into it – for the message of the entire interview comes through near the end.  It’s about 7 minutes long.  (This COULD be something you might not want your children to watch, although there’s absolutely no foul language at all.)

Here’s what I want you to watch.

Do not skip ahead to the rest of this without having watched the link above.

Did you watch it?

Did you?

OK, now we can continue — as long as you said, “Yes, I watched it.”

Let’s get this straight from the start:  I AM absolutely not a Marilyn Manson fan.  I’ve never purchased a CD.  On the rare occasion I’ve heard their music, I’ve been unimpressed.

But that’s NOT the point.

What IS the point, you’re wondering?

The Orioles could learn from Brian Warner (the man in the interview…the rock-n-roll singer, that is).

And the Orioles could learn from the Ravens.

And if the Orioles would handle themselves better as an organization, perhaps the city would have sympathy for their early-season woes.  Right now, they’ve become a “Breaking News Report” on CNN, where you stop everything you’re doing to see where the plane crashed or what city the tornado ravaged or where the hurricane came ashore.  And even though we all want them to win, we’re tuning in these days just as much to see who’s going to be the goat in the 8th or 9th inning.

You can say you aren’t, but you know you are. 

And the ONLY reason we’re laughing, frankly, is because there’s nothing else to do.  We were getting upset in 2007. We got downright mad in 2008.  Last year, we trudged along with them through a 98 loss season and at times, most of us were livid with the way they tanked it down the stretch.  Upset…mad…livid.  Now, we have nothing left to do but laugh at them.   And it’s not like we’re HOPING they fail — because I’m certainly not.  Lord knows I’d much rather talk about wins than losses…then I wouldn’t have to put up with some of these knucklehead know-it-alls who can’t shave yet but think they know more baseball than Joe Torre.

But we’re laughing at them because there’s really nothing left to do.  If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.  And as we all know — there’s no crying in baseball.

So we move along from night to night, watching intently as the manager stumbles and bumbles his way through bizarre decisions, the players seem to do the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time, and the other team eventually says, “well, if Baltimore doesn’t want to win, we might as well do it.”

And as we go on this journey, 19 games in, there are always questions left unanswered.  It seems like a day rarely goes by when there isn’t a move or a play or a player that doesn’t deserve to be analyzed…but the Orioles would rather run and hide than answer their critics.

Hence, the video interview I linked above.

Marilyn Manson wasn’t afraid to face one of his biggest critics.  He took the opportunity to field the questions – most of them tough – and then used that time to let people know more about him, his ideals and why he does what he does.

And whether or not you like Warner (Manson), you have to respect him for sitting there with that clown and fielding those inquiries.

Speaking of fielding questions, on Monday, April 26, you’ll see one of Baltimore’s sports teams stand up and be counted.

They are, of course, the Baltimore Ravens.

Eric DeCosta is the Ravens’ Director of Player Personnel.  He was heavily involved in the team’s draft over the weekend.

And he’s coming on the air with me Monday morning to discuss the draft.

DeCosta and the rest of the Ravens aren’t afraid to talk about their decisions.  They’re more than happy to address the fans and will openly field all challenges about their team, their roster and anything else that is asked of them.

And you can bet your rear-end on this:  If the Ravens ever went 2-14 in a season and couldn’t get out of their own way and were losing games in unthinkable ways, NO ONE in town would be laughing at them.  NO ONE.  (Unless you live in North Harford County and you’re a Steelers fan, which is evidently quite possible.)

The Orioles are afraid of their own shadow.  In fact, their shadow is 5-14 so far this season, a full 2 games ahead of the real team.

The Ravens aren’t afraid to talk with anyone.    

And neither was Marilyn Manson.

Keep his words in your mind as you read this:  right around the 7:10 mark of the interview, Manson says this:  “And I respect you, for challenging me…”

The Ravens allow for challenge.

The Orioles do not.

Monday morning, I will ask DeCosta why they passed on the chance to jump up and get Dez Bryant.  I’ll ask him why they didn’t get one of the elite cornerbacks early in the draft.  I’ll ask him why they gambled on a guy (Kindle) who has a recent history of both injury and off-field-issues.

I’ll challenge Eric DeCosta.

And he’ll give me the answers.

Actually, though, he’ll give YOU the answers.  I ask the questions mainly on behalf of the fans.  You’re the ones who pay the tickets and the PSL charges.  You’re the ones who deserve the answers.  I just happen to be the guy who asks the questions.  The answers are for the fans.

And DeCosta knows that.

Greg Bader, Andy MacPhail and Dave Trembley evidently don’t understand the value of “challenge”.

Their idea of “working with the media” is hand feeding one of their employees-in-law like Steve Melewski or Jen Royle and letting them spread the word about the latest player acquisition or minor league roster call-up.

What kind of challenge will Melewski pose?  Tough questions?  Pressing them for a reason why they did this or that? Answers:  Not much.  None. No chance.

I’ll check the MASN web-site this week to see when Steve or one of the other hired guns over there asks Trembley why his team only stole one base in three games at Boston when the team who played at Fenway just before them (Texas) stole nine bases in one game.  And I’ll check the MASN site sometime this week to see how MacPhail responds to the benching of one of those bats he bought in the off-season, Garrett Atkins, just 17 games into his O’s career. 

Jen Royle is the new O’s beat reporter for the team’s flagship radio station, 105.7.  In typical “Fan Fashion”, they hired an out-of-towner to handle the duties of covering the team.  (In all fairness, if you’re going to hire a beat reporter, she might as well be pretty…no offense, Casey)

What will Jen Royle ask MacPhail?  Answer:  She’s not equipped to even ask anything, she’s a Yankees fan.  Maybe she can ask MacPhail if he’s ever been to the Cobb Chop House in Manhattan.  I think I heard her say it’s one of “Swish’s” favorite hang outs.

So when you have tough questions for MacPhail, like, for example, “Why did you sign Garrett Atkins when Adam LaRoche would have done your team better?”, you get shut out.

With Matt Holliday half-begging for a contract in Baltimore in the off-season, it would be nice to know if the club made him a legitimate offer – or not.  We’re not allowed to ask that question, though.

When you have a tough question for Eric DeCosta, you ask him, “Eric, what’s the thought behind not trying to move up a spot or two and grab Dez Bryant?”

And you’ll get an answer.  Straight from him.

You don’t have to be on the team’s payroll and you don’t have to be part of the club’s exclusive “rightsholder team” in order to have a discussion with the Ravens’ coach, management team or players.

Last year, in the 16-game regular season and 2-weeks worth of playoffs, we had a total of 23 different members of the Ravens organization on The Morning Show.

And that’s just on my show.  Every other show in town has the same access to the Ravens as I do.

The Orioles are drawing crowds that wouldn’t impress the Hershey Bears of the AHL and I’m not allowed to have one of their players or staffers on the air to help promote t-shirt night, $8 ticket night or any of the promotions they’ve concocted to try and draw fans.

Even when you want to help them, you can’t.  And that’s probably the funniest part of it all:  There are lots of us in town who really do want to help. I bought 28 tickets to opening day.  I do four hours of radio per-day.  I’m there for them, basically.

The losing, though, clouds everything, as does the Birds woeful attendance.  I’m supposed to ignore that, evidently.  A few years ago, I went hog wild for about 6 months trying to get the team to change their road uniforms and put “BALTIMORE” on the front of them.  A team staffer once told me, “That was your swan song with them…when you wouldn’t let that go, they put you on the s**t list.”

In 2009, the team switched their road jersey to include “BALTIMORE” on the front.

I guess it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

But when I challenged them on it in 2007 and 2008, I got the boot.   And you can’t challenge them on the losing now, either.  If you do, you’re out.

The Ravens spend some of their time explaining how important winning is and then spend the rest of the time doing things that show how important winning is to them.  And then, mostly, they go out and win.

The Orioles spend some of their time explaining how tough it is to win and then spend most of their time not winning.

The Ravens aren’t afraid of being challenged, because they believe in what they’re doing and they believe the fans have a right to know how they’re going about it.

The Orioles don’t accept a challenge.  It starts with Bader, who runs the club’s ever-impressive Communications Department.  He won’t allow MacPhail to discuss the team’s baseball operational plan with anyone except those who pay the team.  Then it gets to MacPhail, who doesn’t have the chutzpah to say to Bader and those in charge, “Guys…look…I don’t know anything about this war you’re waging with some folks in the media but I can tell you I’m a grown man and I’ll be more than happy to talk to them and explain what I’m doing.”  And on almost any day or night where his team coughs up a lead and loses, only the 3 or 4 media members who are picking up a check from the team or its flagship station are deemed “safe” for questions afterwards.  And even then, you can barely pick them up on the microphone stationed in the room because anyone who asks a question of Trembley knows he’s about to get his (or her) head bitten off by the skipper.

John Harbaugh has an interesting side to his post-game demeanor, but I’m NEVER afraid to ask him a question.  And I’m always allowed to ask him one, too.

The Orioles – at this stage – should WELCOME a challenge from anyone who will give it.

I might not listen to Marilyn Manson, but I respect Brian Warner for sitting down with that idiot Bill O’Reilly and b-slapping him all over the place in the interview I linked above.

Warner took all of O’Reilly’s best shots – sex with another man, use of the f-word, the weird clothing and get-up – and explained himself in a manner that certainly made the singer the winner and the interviewer the loser.  O’Reilly figured he’d eat him for lunch.  Not quite.  Warner took the challenge and made O’Reilly look like a rag doll in the process.

And at the end, Warner even threw in the final zinger:  “I respect you for challenging me and that’s why I came on your show.”

Game.  Set.  Match.

Thanks for coming, Bill.

If Greg Bader and Andy MacPhail were REALLY smart, they’d watch how the Ravens do business and follow suit. By reaching out to the fans and the media, the Ravens get everyone on their side.  70,000 people jam the stadium 8 times a year and the city lives, breathes and panics with every game from September to January.  And even though they get their fair share of criticism after a loss, there’s never a moment where the community laughs at the football team’s misfortunes.  That just doesn’t happen here.

But it’s happening with the baseball team.

And it shouldn’t.

However…they’ve brought all of this on themselves.

We still watch the games — I’ve missed ONE full game out of 19 (last Saturday, the 4-3 loss at Oakland that no one saw) and a small part of the 7-1 Seattle loss when I assumed after six innings they were going to lose and I went to bed — and we’re so tired of seeing them lose we can’t see straight anymore.

But there’s still a disconnect with the team and the fans.  And if you are sitting there now saying, “there isn’t a disconnect, Drew, you’re just blowing hot air again”, then tell me, please, why they’re drawing 10,000 people to their weeknight home games.

Some of it has to do with the losing.

Some of it has to with their snide, snobby way of doing business and acting as if it’s a privilege to attend the home games.  See the day-of-game-ticket-price increase as a prime 2010 example.

Their attitude for the last few years has been this:  “We do what we do and you have no business asking us about it…you just should buy tickets and let us run the club.”

And some of it has to do with the fact that they don’t want to connect with the people who pay their salaries.

They don’t want you to know why they passed on Adam LaRoche and went with Garrett Atkins.  They don’t want you to know if they made an offer for Adrian Beltre or Matt Holliday.  They don’t want you to know if they’re REALLY trying to win.

And the reason why I KNOW that they don’t want you to know is this:  They’re afraid of being challenged with questions about the way they do business.

As you’ll hear first hand on Monday, the Ravens and Eric DeCosta aren’t afraid of that.

Neither is Marilyn Manson.

The Orioles, though, still don’t get it.  We ALL really want them to win.  We ALL really want them to become important again.  We ALL want the stands filled 81 nights a year.

Think about how great our sports community would be if baseball mattered again in Baltimore.  We’d be in sports heaven.  April to January would be glorious.

First, though, the Orioles have to realize we’re really not AGAINST them, we’re FOR them.

But we’re not going to be fed chicken manure after the menu said it was chicken salad.

And if we’re not allowed to challenge you, how are we supposed to feel a connection that makes us proud when you win and distraught when you lose?

Answer:  Right now, we don’t feel that way at all.

In the summer, that is.

Once fall and winter hit, we live and die with our football team.  And one of the biggest reasons we feel knitted into the fabric of the football team is because they make us feel that way.  They make that kind of effort. 

The baseball team deserves the same kind of community connection and spirit.

But they have to earn it, the way the Ravens have.

Until Bader and MacPhail stop being afraid of a challenge, the connection won’t be there.

And neither will the fans.