Past, Present, and Future

September 13, 2009 | Erich Hawbaker

Back on Wednesday night, I needed something to do while I was watching President Obama’s address to Congress (I won’t dive into politics on here beyond saying that I am a Republican with Libertarian leanings; if you want to butt heads with me on that I’ll gladly direct you to my political blog). Unless it’s sports, I’m not one who can sit completely idle and watch television. For me, watching TV really means having the TV on, listening to it, and glancing at the screen every now and then while I’m doing something else. And the other night, the task I settled upon was unpacking my modest collection of baseball memorabilia. I moved to my current residence not long ago, and I still have about a dozen boxes of this and that in the spare rooms that I haven’t gotten around to yet. 

As I came to my couple autographed baseballs, it really got me thinking about where the Orioles have been and where they need to go. The first ball I put on the shelf bears the signature of Earl Weaver. Although I’m too young to remember seeing him in action myself, I’m very aware of his legacy and all he did for this team. It really struck me that O’s fans should think of him the way most Republicans think of Ronald Reagan. He had a method that was unique but very effective, and even his adversaries had to concede that he was very good at what he did (I’ve seen the youtube videos of him throwing fits and swearing up a storm, it’s one of my favorite things to watch when I need a good laugh). Even after he was gone, the model that he left behind continued to yield unquestionable results. And it was only when we stopped doing things his way that the wheels fell off.

The second ball I got out was signed by Kevin Millar. I had liked him before he came here, and during his seasons with the Orioles I came to admire him even more. He’s one of those types that we see fewer and fewer of these days. He goes out and gives 100% every day because he genuinely loves the game of baseball. I was heartbroken when he ultimately didn’t return this year, and even started a Facebook group about it (“Keep Kevin Millar a Baltimore Oriole: The Official Petition”). In hindsight, we probably wouldn’t have been any worse off with him at firstbase again this year than we were with Aubrey Huff or Ty Wigginton. I know he’s getting older, but he also brings another aspect to the team that I believe is crucial for success. Millar’s clubhouse presence is universally known. Wherever he goes, he’s the papa bear off the field. And while it may not be him specifically that we need going forward, it is his persona. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Millar is the only man with a World Series ring to wear an Orioles uniform in the last five years. If this club of youngsters is going to blossom into a team that can go toe to toe with the Yankees and Red Sox, we’ve got to mix in a few tested veterans who know what winning is and have a winning mindset to guide the flock of kohais.

This dovetails with my third signature, that of Adam Jones. It was a very sobering moment for me, standing in line at the York Galleria Mall, when I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was seeking an autograph from someone younger than I. There’s no question that he’s the real thing, and will only get better with experience. Clearly, what MacPhail is doing is stockpiling prospects and waiting for them to sprout. We’ve seen some success with this approach, and it’s the main reason why there are those among us who finally have some optimism about the future. However, it’s pretty unrealistic to think that we can grow everything we’ll need from within. Much like our economy, we can produce some things, but we need to import others. In the baseball world, this is done via trades and the signing of free agents. The trading part, as of late, has been excellent. We first unloaded two lemons for five average and above average players each, and more recently jettisoned some mostly dead weight for other more useful spare parts. Trading is also much easier when you have plenty of bargaining chips, which we now do. But the other half of the equation is still missing. Yes, we (wisely) didn’t pay a king’s ransom for Mark Teixeira.  But we’ve got to get back into the free agent market to fill our vacancies and demonstrate to everyone that we’re serious about winning again. Melvin Mora is leaving and we can do better than Ty Wigginton at third. Why not Chone Figgins? And just think how different the outlook for next year would be if the youngsters Bergesen and Matusz were at the bottom of our rotation behind the likes of Justin Duchscherer, John Lackey, Jason Marquis, or Kevin Millwood (all free agents at the end of this year). It wouldn’t have to be expensive or for the long term, but it would take the strain off of them and hold the place until the guys like Berken and Hernandez are really ready to step into the role. The nine-figure sum they offered Teixeira would more than cover a few quality vets from the free agent market. And now that everyone knows we have it (in case they didn’t already), we’ve got to show some willingness to invest in winning if we’re going to be taken seriously again.

That’s the end of my musings for now. Hope you all found it interesting and nobody gets the urge to shout “You lie!”