This past week the Orioles finally hit that “magic” (or “tragic”…depending upon how you look at it) plateau of 40 wins on the season, ensuring that they wouldn’t break an infamous record set by the 1962 Mets. That year, the expansion Mets went 40-122, giving them the worst record in baseball over 162 games. In that case, the futility is almost excusable given that the Mets were an expansion team. In the Orioles’ situation, we all know that while this team underachieved almost from day one, there were also many things out of the realm of anyone’s control such as injuries. Neverthelss, from my perspective all fans owe these Orioles a debt of gratitude in that I didn’t want to be the team that broke that record.
I’ve always seen Baltimore as being a proud city; proud of it’s people, infrastructure, and it’s sports teams. As lackluster as this season’s been, that includes the 2010 Orioles. I tap into that kind of spirit on a frequent basis in that I try to carry myself with that kind of pride and dignity. So with approximately six weeks left in the season, the question of pride or draft choices comes up with regard to the O’s. Of late, it’s seemed that there have been teams that have known that they were way out of contention, and they effectively tanked the end of their season so as to get the number one draft choice the next year. Some call that smart; I call it shameful. Regardless of the circumstances or the stakes, when a professional athlete puts on a uniform his goal should be to win. I don’t care if it’s a preseason game, the Super Bowl, or a regular season game; you still give your all and do everything within your power and the rules to win.
Most recently, the Boston Celtics appeared to do this in 2006-07 when they finished the final 24 games of the season 2-22. Granted the Celtics had numerous injuries, however there never appeared to be the necessary effort to win on the part of the team and Coach Doc Rivers. Similarly, Boston is a proud city just like Baltimore (as we find out each time the Red Sox come to town). I wonder how those people felt seeing their team lose like that? The opposite argument is that the high draft choice will allow a team to secure it’s future. Seeing that the Celtics have been in the playoffs since then, and made the NBA Finals this past season, I suppose that’s a legitimate arguement. However, at what cost? As fans, we buy tickets to sporting events to have a good time, and to hopefully see our favorite teams win. If there was evidence to say that a team wasn’t trying to win, or worse yet physically trying to lose, how many people would still buy tickets or merchandise? When I see this Oriole team, I’m incredibly proud of the fact that they’re still trying to win games. Anyone that saw a game before Showalter’s arrival as well as since then can plainly see that. The fact is that the O’s are going to get a decent draft choice next year one way or the other. So why sacrifice face in order to get the #1 pick? That appears to be Buck Showalter and Andy MacPhail’s stance, and the players are buying into it.
That’s the “personal arguement” for not tanking the season, but with regard to baseball there’s also a strategic reason as well. In the NBA and NFL, we have very strong collegiate programs that feed those respective sports. While college baseball is much stronger than it was even ten years ago, it’s nowhere near as good as NCAA football or basketball. So when scouts in those sports look at a draft class, they have a pretty good idea as to how good a player such as John Wall is going to be. The minor leagues fill this role in baseball, and most guys spend two or three years in the minors before they’re brought up. So in effect, for all you know a #1 draft choice might not even make it to “te show.” Using Joe Flacco as an example, he was drafted in 2008 and he started opening day. Granted he wasn’t a #1 draft choice, however after playing four years at Delaware he was ready to go. Jake Arrieta spent three years in the minors before coming up this season. So while finishing with the worst record will get you that coveted #1 selection, you might not see the results even begin to trickle in until years down the line.
Ultimately, pride matters to me just as I think it does to most fans. When I go to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I do so to see the Orioles win. If I ever thought that they weren’t trying to win the game, I’d probably get up and leave. I like how Joe DiMaggio used to tell people why he always played hard; there might have been someone in the stands that paid to get in who had never seen him play. And he wouldn’t want that person to think he wasn’t a good player that hustled and tried his best.